East Bay Times wins coveted Pulitzer Prize

The East Bay Times has won the Pulitzer Prize for coverage of a deadly fire last December at the “Ghost Ship,” a two-story building in Oakland intended to be a warehouse, but used as a residence and, on the night of the blaze, a party venue.

The Times, a publication of the Bay Area News Group, received the prize for breaking news, a sequence of stories that began at 3:45 a.m. the day of the fire when longtime reporter Harry Harris received a tip that the building was ablaze.

The Pulitzer committee said the award was bestowed for “relentless coverage of the ‘Ghost Ship’ fire, which killed 36 people at a warehouse party, and for reporting after the tragedy that exposed the city’s failure to take actions that might have prevented it.”

Coverage of the fire itself was accompanied by profiles of the victims, investigations into the cause, and examinations of what the paper called “the system breakdowns that allowed so many people to cram into a firetrap whose dangers should have been obvious.”

Quickly the paper found that “there were no sprinklers, fire alarms or adequate escape routes. A makeshift stairwell built out of wood pallets led to the festivities on the second floor.”

Pulitzers, considered the most prestigious prizes in journalism, have been won five times by Bay Area News Group papers. Throughout Northern California, the prize has been awarded 25 times since 1934. See the list here.

Winners in the breaking news category are singled out for “a distinguished example of local reporting of breaking news that, as quickly as possible, captures events accurately as they occur, and, as time passes, illuminates, provides context and expands upon the initial coverage.”

Winners receive $15,000, which the paper said would be contributed to a fund for families of the Ghost Ship victims.

The paper’s continuing coverage is here. Profiles of the victims are here.