Pulitzer winner leaving Arizona Guardian for Afghanistan

By Nick R. Martin | November 13th, 2009 | 8:53 am | No Comments »

Paul Giblin

Yes, you read that headline right. Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Giblin is leaving the Arizona Guardian less than a year after he helped found it to go to Afghanistan in a civilian role with the U.S. Army.

His departure from the political news website has been one of the worst kept secrets in Arizona journalism circles in recent weeks, but Giblin had consistently declined to confirm his new position until it was certain.

Late yesterday, he made it official. In a note on the Guardian’s website, Publisher Bob Grossfeld said Giblin would be spending a year stationed in Afghanistan, though he didn’t say exactly what the prize-winning journalist would be doing there. Grossfeld also said Giblin may occasionally pen a letter from overseas for the Guardian site.

“I hope you’ll join with us in not only wishing Paul the best of luck,” Grossfeld wrote, “but also including him in your prayers every now and then.”

Giblin has been a key figure in the Arizona Guardian since it was founded in January.

He was named the winner of the Pulitzer, the highest honor in journalism, about four months into the startup’s existence. Giblin won the award for a series he cowrote before even joining the Guardian, but the timing made him the perfect anecdote for the direction journalism was headed. As more newspapers collapsed, their top talent would be flocking to the web.

In July, I profiled Giblin and the Arizona Guardian for a piece in Phoenix magazine. I was fortunate enough to catch him just hours after winning the Pulitzer when calls of congratulations were still flooding his cell phone.

It’s midmorning on a Tuesday in April, and Paul Giblin is the only person tending shop at the tiny Downtown office of the Arizona Guardian. He sits amid a mishmash of folding tables that pass for desks, mismatched chairs and messy piles of papers stacked throughout this basement alcove. He is answering a flood of calls and e-mails stretching into its second day. CBS News had called. So had Portfolio magazine. Giblin just got an e-mail from a reporter in Switzerland who wanted to confirm a quote.

“I’ve been here since 6:30,” he tells me. “I’ve been hearing from people I worked with 20 years ago.”

It’s become a bit of a blur. He’s not even sure where his co-workers are. About that time, the cell phone rings again. But his reaction is different. Giblin listens for a few moments and starts taking notes. He asks a question and writes some more. More questions, more notes – the steady rhythm of a reporter at work. Ten minutes go by and Giblin hangs up. He looks up from his computer.

“Win a Pulitzer and people drop stories on you,” he says.

By that time, the Guardian already had the ads up on their website, advertising themselves as home Pultizer-winning journalists. (The website still employes Patti Epler, who edited the prize-worthy series for the East Valley Tribune.) And indeed, over the next several days and weeks, the Guardian got more publicity because of Giblin’s win and new job writing for a website than it ever would have gotten otherwise.

[Full disclosure: I used to work with Paul Giblin at the East Valley Tribune, and more recently we worked together one day a week as regional sports editors at the Associated Press.]