Congrats on the Pulitzer. But This One’s a Howl.

You hate to rain on anyone’s parade, especially when that parade is being held to applaud that person for winning print journalism’s highest honor.

But, unfortunately, newly minted Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wendy Ruderman of the Philadelphia Daily News is the author of my Howl for this week.

Ruderman’s story “New Breath of Life”  is the story of Henry Howell, a former maintenance man for the Philadelphia Housing Authority who is battling to stay alive with a new set of donated lungs necessitated by the decimation of his own.

As part of this story, Howell talks about his life, his time as a PHA maintenance man, and the part that his job may have played in his illness. While his doctors say that the reason for his illness, pulmonary fibrosis, is undetermined, he believes it was caused by the asbestos he inhaled doing clean-ups for PHA.

Now what is it about this story that bothers me? Well, the first thing that bothers me is that it doesn’t know what kind of story it wants to be. Does it want to be an expose’ about PHA’s asbestos removal policies or does it want to be the story of a man who has fought long odds and is now enjoying a new lease on life thanks to his new set of lungs?

By trying to be both it ends up being not very good at either.

While I can understand putting in the stuff about his job at PHA and how it was connected to how he discovered his illness, the rest of that whole section of the story makes no sense when connected to the rest of the piece. It breaks up two really good sections regarding this man and his struggle to live unnecessarily.

And it also reminds me of something that one of my former editors told me: “Sometimes a horse is just a horse. It’s not a zebra.”

While I can understand that Ruderman won a Pulitzer for her ability to tell stories about agencies or representatives of agencies doing things that they shouldn’t, not everything fits that category.

In the story animal kingdom, this one is a definite horse.

– Denise Clay


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