Gail Collins Named Lifetime Achievement Winner

Gail Collins. Photo by Earl Wilson/The New York TimesColumnist Gail Collins of The New York Times is the winner of the 2012 Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award. She will receive the prestigious award sponsored by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists at the organization’s annual conference, Macon, Ga., May 3-6.

Gail Collins joined the Times in 1995 as a member of the editorial board and later as an Op-Ed columnist. In 2001 she became the first woman appointed editor of the Times’ editorial page. She held this position six years until taking a leave of absence to work on a book in 2007. She rejoined the newspaper as a columnist. Prior to the Times, Collins was a political columnist at New York Newsday and the New York Daily News, and a reporter for United Press International.

While Collins has downplayed the significance of being the first female editorial page editor at the Times, others found Collins important and inspiring. Colleagues have called her leadership clear-cut but not heavy-handed.

Gail Collins will be the fifth female winner of the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award, following such outstanding journalists as Molly Ivins, Fort-Worth Star Telegram; Celestine Sibley, Atlanta Journal-Constitution; Mary McGory, Washington Star; and most recently, Ellen Goodman, The Boston Globe.

Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award

The NSNC Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award is named for the renowned correspondent of World War II who is considered the patron saint of the NSNC. This award is given yearly to honor a columnist who exemplifies outstanding achievement in the tradition of Ernie Pyle.

In the 1930s, Pyle, previously an aviation reporter, wrote a popular travel column for Scripps-Howard News Service. When the war broke out, he covered it, first in Europe then the Pacific theater. He was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 1944, and the next year he was killed while on assignment. Pyle’s war coverage gave him a lasting reputation; he was a pioneer of reporting battle through the eyes of the troops.

“Adding Gail Collins to our lifetime achievers honors her, but it also honors our profession,” said NSNC President Ben Pollock. “Gail walks the walk of both newspapers and scholarship, as a dogged reporter but also gets her elbows deep in the library stacks for historical documents. We mustn’t discount her conversational style; it can’t be easy, but it’s a model for all of us. In both her columns and books, Gail writes with sophistication and an easy clarity, no mean feat.”

The Pyle honor is selected by the NSNC board. Collins was nominated by NSNC Vice President Larry Cohen.

“I’ve always been an intellectual stalker of Gail,” said Cohen, a conservative political columnist:

When I arrived in Connecticut for my first full-time newspaper job after college, there was Gail, writing for what was, at the time, one of the first and most funky “alternative” weeklies, the Hartford Advocate. Soon, she flexed writing/reporting and entrepreneurial muscles with the launching of one of the nation’s first statewide news services, offering up coverage of state government and the legislature. We were like ships passing in the night; I only knew her well enough to say hi and share a few friends, but her drive and her humor and her talent were (and still are) remarkable. I watched her take prosper in the New York City journalism market; I watched her success at The New York Times — I only told a few folks that I made her everything she is today. As left-wing nut ball, as hard-nosed reporter, as entrepreneur and boss and, of course, witty and wise columnist, she was my enthusiastic nominee for our Lifetime Achievement Award.”

Early Life and Other Work

Born in Cincinnati, in 1945, Collins holds a bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University in Milwaukee and a master’s in government from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She wrote for Connecticut publications including the Hartford Advocate and founded the Connecticut State News Bureau, which provided coverage of state government and politics.

The lifetime honoree has two books scheduled for 2012 publication. Due for release Jan. 17 from Times Books is William Henry Harrison: The American Presidents Series: The 9th President.

Following that, As Texas Goes: How the Lone Star State Hijacked the American Agenda has a June 4 release date from Norton.

Collins is the author of other books:

  • When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present (2009 by Little, Brown). This volume received a “Colbert bump.”
  • Scorpion Tongues: Gossip, Celebrity and American Politics (rev. 2007 by Harper Perennial)
  • America’s Women: Four Hundred Years of Dolls, Drudges, Helpmates, and Heroines (2004 by Harper Perennial)
  • The Millennium Book: Your Essential All-Purpose Guide for the Year 2000, co-authored with her husband, Dan Collins (1990 by Main Street Books).

She has taught journalism at Columbia University and Southern Connecticut State University. Currently, she also co-writes a point-counterpoint-style weekly blog with her Times columnist colleague David Brooks, “The Conversation.”

Collins will accept the award and deliver the keynote speech during the evening banquet on Saturday, May 5, as part of an NSNC annual conference. Also honored during the course of the Macon conference will be the Will Rogers Humanitarian Award winner and a student scholarship winner. The winners of the annual NSNC Column Contest will be announced at the Saturday banquet.

The National Society of Newspaper Columnists was founded in 1977 and exists to promote professionalism and camaraderie among columnists. Membership is open to general interest, humor, op-ed, online, or other staff and freelance columnists. Academics and student columnists also are eligible to join. The annual conference and column-writing contest are the society’s primary events. The group also publishes a monthly newsletter, maintains a website and advocates for columnist and free-press issues. New members are welcome, and information on the conference and membership can be found at columnists.com.

Photo credit Earl Wilson/The New York Times
Sources include
New York Times bio page, Wikipedia, Knight Fellowship

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