Just announced: Dave Jamieson, a former Washington City Paper staff writer, has just won the prestigious Livingston Award for his story “Letters From an Arsonist.” The story—a must read!—ran as the cover story on June 1, 2007. The award brings with it not just a rubber-chicken lunch, but $10,000.
It’s a big deal. The Livingston Awards, which are given out to journalists under 35 and are the nation’s largest all-media reporting prizes, are always a big deal. Jamieson, who won in the local reporting category, had to beat out heavyweights at the Washington Post and other fine publications and broadcast networks with more resources.
But this is no upset. His story exemplified what all great stories do. It uncovered—with rich details and new facts—the story of the arsonist who burned our city for years and years. The story provided a haunting, unforgettable profile of the man behind all those fires and also broke serious news. Through dogged investigative work, Jamieson uncovered that the man was responsible for more than the one death that had been previously reported—and had to inform the children of two of the victims that their parents did not die as the result of an “accidental” fire.
While most of you have read his piece, few of you have an idea of what Jamieson went through to get his story just right. The arsonist’s letters would come in batches and then suddenly stop. A trip out to the Indiana prison for a one-on-one interview came to nothing. But he stuck with it for a year.
The story is a testament to what journalism can do and should do more often. In this era of cutbacks and imperatives to blog!blog!blog! Jamieson proved that journalism is still best served by expert reporting and expert writing. There’s not a wasted sentence in his piece (credit should go to his editors Erik Wemple, Andrew Beaujon, and Jule Banville as well). If you want a textbook case of why this publication should still matter to District residents and its owners down south, this is it.
So today, we are inspired by Jamieson’s news. And we will continue to be inspired by Jamieson’s arsonist story and his feature pieces.
Congrats, man. You earned it.
(photo by Darrow Montgomery)