The Sacramento Bee is celebrating its 160th anniversary this year. This story is part of our ongoing coverage.
April 17, 2007: Sacramento Bee photographer Renée C. Byer was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for feature photography Monday for her work in “A Mother’s Journey,” a series that chronicled a dying boy’s final year.
Byer’s unflinching photographs illustrated the four-part series, which was written by reporter Cynthia Hubert and ran in The Bee last summer. Byer and Hubert told the story of 11-year-old Derek Madsen, who was battling a rare form of cancer, and the anguish and courage of his mother, Cyndie French.
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The Pulitzer Prizes, regarded as American journalism’s highest honor, are presented annually by Columbia University.
In presenting the $10,000 feature photography prize to Byer, the judges described her entry as an “intimate portrayal of a single mother and her young son as he loses his battle with cancer.”
At noon Monday, Byer sat at a newsroom computer and awaited confirmation of the award via The Associated Press. Dozens of her colleagues broke into applause and cheers when the bulletin announcing her Pulitzer arrived.
Byer said that Derek’s story was wrenching – but important – to chronicle.
“In a situation like this, your instincts as a person are to try to help,” she said. “But as a journalist, you have to step back and let things unfold as they naturally would. It can be very, very painful.
“I was documenting a story that needed to be told, and it was a gift to be allowed to be there. Throughout, I had a bigger vision that – because of what I was witnessing – it would bring hope to other families.”
Byer said she saw “A Mother’s Journey” as an exploration on several levels: the financial impact on a family struggling with a tragic situation, health care shortages that led to maddening delays and the very personal and heartbreaking loss of a child.
Bee lauded in ’35 for series on political corruption
May 7, 1935: The Sacramento Bee was awarded the Pulitzer prize last night for the most disinterested and meritorious public service performed by an American newspaper during the year 1934.
The award recognizes the work of Arthur B. Waugh, associate editor of The Bee, for his series of stories dealing with political corruption in Nevada in connection with the nomination of Federal District Judge Frank H. Norcross to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals.
This marks the first time a Pulitzer prize for disinterested meritorious public service inaugurated in 1918 has been awarded a California newspaper.
The award to The Sacramento Bee was announced in New York by Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, president of the Columbia University, at the annual dinner of alumni of the Pulitzer School of Journalism.
The selections are made by an advisory board headed by Dr. Butler and including many outstanding figures in the field of American journalism.
Sacramento Bee Pulitzer Prizes
1935: Public Service Gold Medal for a series of stories campaigning against a corrupt political machine in Nevada. Two federal judicial nominations were withdrawn as a result of the investigation.
1992: Public Service Gold Medal for the series “Sierra in Peril,” reports written by reporter Tom Knudson that detailed environmental threats to the Sierra Nevada.
1992: Beat reporting prize for “The Monkey Wars,” a series written by Deborah Blum on ethical and moral questions involving primate research.
2005: Editorial writing prize to Tom Philp, who authored a series of editorials urging the reclamation of Hetch Hetchy Valley, which was flooded by a dam used to provide water to the Bay Area.
2007: Feature photography prize to Renée C. Byer for her photographs chronicling a single mother’s attempt to care for her young son as he succumbed to cancer.
2016: Editorial cartooning prize to Jack Ohman for his pointed portfolio of drawings commenting on topics including the presidential campaign, gun violence and marriage equality.