Journalists don’t do what they do for awards. But recognition is nice, especially when the person receiving it is so deserving.
The final paragraph on Page 151 of the book commemorating 100 years of Pulitzer Prizes reads: “Jack Ohman of The Sacramento Bee for cartoons that convey wry, rueful perspectives through sophisticated style that combines bold line work with subtle colors and textures.”
We on the editorial board have the privilege of working with Jack five days a week, and we had the honor of sharing the news in April when the Pulitzer committee announced that Jack had won the most coveted award in journalism.
Jack’s wife, Mandy Sittrop, Bee Publisher Cheryl Dell, McClatchy Newspapers CEO Pat Talamantes, McClatchy’s vice president for news, Tim Grieve, and I traveled to New York to watch as Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger handed Jack the prize Thursday night in a grand auditorium of one of the world’s great universities.
Jack, a funny guy, said later that he worried about tripping as he walked to the stage. He didn’t. He also said he felt less than worthy standing next to the great reporters, authors of editorials, and the poet and musician who won on the same night as he did.
Editorial cartooning is a special art, especially in Jack’s hands. With strokes of his pen and few words, or sometimes no words, Jack conveys more than most writers do with 1,000 words. His work makes you laugh, cringe and think.
We on the editorial board start most days with a meeting to shape what our editorials will be for that day online and for the following day in print. Jack generally arrives late, often in flip-flops, and almost always better informed on the day’s events than I am.
More importantly, he offers special takes on the day’s events. He is one of the most literate and knowledgeable journalists I’ve met in 40 years in this business, and is among the hardest working, drawing five cartoons a week, writing a column and pitching in with editorials, which are some of our most poignant.
As he tells it, the news that he had won the 2016 Pulitzer for editorial cartooning was exhilarating. But the historic nature of the award didn’t hit him until the night of the ceremony. It’s a serious event, steeped in history.
“It made me think about journalism and the profoundly important role we play in American democracy, and how even an editorial cartoon can have an effect in helping people understand their too-fragile democracy,” Jack said in a note once he had time to contemplate the evening.
Look at past winners for Public Service: the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, 9/11, the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church. Or flip through awards for reports over the years that exposed local corruption, delivered big breaking news stories accurately and quickly, and explained or exposed previously little noticed aspects of the world in words and photos.
Look back at the past winners in his category: Paul Conrad, Herbert Block, Jeff MacNelly, Garry Trudeau, Rube Goldberg. They’re giants.
Jack takes his place among them all, deservedly so.