Medill grad wins Pulitzer for editorial series

Michelle Ma

Tom Philp, Medill ’83, captured the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing Monday for a series that calls for the restoration of a flooded valley in California.

But although Philp is committed to his work at The Sacramento Bee, he said he will always remember afternoon Cubs games, 2 a.m. pizza feasts and academic instruction as an undergraduate at Northwestern.

“Somewhere down the line I began to lose my quite sizable ego about writing,” said Philp, who serves as an associate editor of The Sacramento Bee. “Medill’s major role was to take my ego and throw it to the Chicago wind as they also tried to teach me about clarity, grammar and verbs.”

With his editorials on restoring Yosemite National Park’s flooded Hetch Hetchy Valley, Philp joins more than 20 Medill graduates who have received the highest individual award in journalism. Each year 15 individual journalists receive Pulitzers for such genres as feature writing, investigative reporting and breaking news photography.

In addition to these past individual winners, hundreds of other Medill alumni are recognized as contributors in Pulitzer Prize-winning projects, said Richard Roth, senior associate dean of Medill.

“It’s the ultimate prize in our business and to have won it is great,” Roth said. “It does add to the perceived value of a Medill degree.”

Mostly writing about environmental and local growth issues, Philp began a series of editorials examining a valley in Yosemite that Congress had passed legislation to purposely flood. Hetch Hetchy Valley has served as a water supply plant for San Francisco since 1923. Philp’s editorials claimed that San Francisco’s water supply could be held downstream or underground, opening the valley for restoration.

“The more we looked at this, the more we realized that, hey, there’s more ways to store this water and open up the valley,” Philp said.

Although it would take acts of Congress, the state legislature and the cooperation of San Francisco and Central Valley water districts to redo plumbing and permanently drain the valley, Philp said he hopes the editorials have brought attention to the issue. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s administration already has agreed to look into other options for water storage, he said.

“It looked like a deed that that couldn’t conceivably be undone,” Philp said.

Philp said one of the best things about receiving the award Monday was overwhelming support from college friends with whom he had lost contact.

“All of a sudden, you win this thing and you sign onto your computer at work and there they all are,” Philp said. “I got 400 e-mails, and many are from old friends. It’s such a blessing.”

After beginning his freshman year in the fall of 1979, Philp soon began writing for The Daily. He said he remembers writing articles about student protests about increased tuition.

During his senior year, Philp served as The Daily’s campus editor. The experience was an important step for his career, Philp said.

After graduating in 1983, Philp accepted a reporting position at the San Jose Mercury News, where he met his wife, Lisa Lapin. In 1992 Philp took a reporting job at The Sacramento Bee and moved to an associate editor position in 1997.

Philp will use some of his $10,000 prize money to take his two children to Disneyland and will continue to do what he loves.

“I’m going to keep typing; I know that for sure,” Philp said. “I love where I live and the issues I cover.”

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected]