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She has the right stuff, wins Pulitzer Prize

The Daily Breeze website announced the Pulitzer Prize earned by reporter Rebecca Kimitch, city editor Frank Suraci and reporter Rob Kuznia.

A true gem

I once worked with a young journalist who was like one of those puppies in a litter that always did something to catch your attention — she was bright.

If she didn’t know something, she would find out about it. She was a hard worker. She was a person who would naturally draw others to her. She was also feisty. If you were her supervisor, you’d better be on your toes.

Her name is Rebecca Kimitch, better known as Becca. On April 20 it was announced that Becca, along with fellow Daily Breeze reporter Rob Kuznia and city editor Frank Suraci, earned a Pulitzer Prize for their extensive series about possible corruption in the Centinela Valley Union High School District in Los Angeles. The Daily Breeze is a 63,000-circulation daily newspaper in L.A.’s South Bay area, part of the Los Angeles News Group.

The paper is not widely known outside its area of coverage, and has to compete in a crowded L.A. market flooded with media of all types. The Breeze had never been awarded a Pulitzer before, so this was huge, even drawing coverage by the Los Angeles Times.

Both the Times and the Breeze reported that the individual prize winners graciously credited their executive editor, Michael Anastasi, for urging them to push toward greater heights as they worked on the six-month coverage. Furthermore, the newspaper’s staff is not large; a true testament to how resources can be utilized to accomplish great things.

Anastasi’s insistence to keep up the top-notch coverage had to be measured against the need to allocate reporters to other community news. Their reporters could only be stretched so far. It’s a news management dilemma familiar to all editors.

Diamond in the Rough

I first met Becca when I interviewed her for a position at a small newspaper group comprised of community weeklies in San Diego. I believe she said her brother was a reporter in New Mexico and that she wanted to try her hand at journalism, too. She had no experience, but she had a solid degree from Northwestern. I did what I often did. I suggested she get a hold of a few Journalism 101 books and an AP Stylebook to learn some fundamentals. I promised her nothing, but encouraged her to contact me when she felt she was ready, and I would interview her again, quizzing her on the basics. If her knowledge was up to par, I would get her started on a freelance assignment.

I had suggested the same to many people aspiring to become journalists, but very few followed up. I hoped she would take my advice, but I wasn’t holding my breath. Nearly two months passed and Becca contacted me again. I had forgotten all about her by then, and was surprised to hear from her. We met, and sure enough, she was well versed on the fundamentals. I offered her a freelance story and she was off to the races. She became one our full-timers before the end of the year, working beautifully with our other staff members and becoming a respected reporter within the communities we covered.

Becca left our paper to join the staff at the Tico Times in Costa Rico. As I recall, Becca was still discovering what she wanted to do in life, and she traveled a bit, getting many chances to use her Spanish language skills. Being drawn to politics, she worked for a while at Congressional Quarterly in Washington, D.C., before accepting a fellowship at the U.S. House of Representatives. Becca wound up in Los Angeles and, in spite of fierce competition for newspaper jobs, landed a spot with the Los Angeles News Group.

Her journey has often been difficult, but she is one of the few who have stuck with newspapers these days and climbed to success, bringing glory and fame to her publication. Becca has been a reporter, editor and, now, a Pulitzer Prize winner. Needless to say, we are all very proud of her.

‘The Becca experience’

I was rebuilding a staff when Becca came along. I had to get my news department stabilized so we could turn our attention to launching a new paper. Most of the time we had people waiting in line to work for our newspapers. It was like being on one of those college football powerhouses that have waves and waves of talent waiting for their chance. I’m sure that being based in beautiful San Diego had something to do with so many wanting to join our company. But at that time we were experiencing a drought of talent. It was a time when most new journalists wanted to join the companies that were trendy back then. Becca wanted to be a newspaper reporter. She was one of the great finds who blossomed into a talented, tenacious journalist, and a polished writer. I was certainly grateful she turned up when she did.

Management lessons

Allow me to highlight the lessons from the “Becca experience.” 1. Hire intelligent, skilled employees who are also good, decent people.

2. Do your own recruiting and hiring, if at all possible. Recruit and recruit often.

3. Don’t forget the importance of training.

4. When you lead a newsroom, you must stick to your guns and see your decisions through. Set the standard for your team and make sure your team understands your vision. In this case, Daily Breeze executive editor Michael Anastasi did this exactly by having his staff continue with the detailed school district coverage, and it paid off. City editor Frank Suraci obviously played an important role as well.

I must point out that, although I have had the honor to work with so many wonderful people during my career, Becca is truly one in a million. Given half a chance, she will always succeed. She earned everything she has, and she deserves all the credit and fame that a Pulitzer brings.

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