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  Brian McGrory  

Credit where credit's due

4/8/2003

He can sit in his office in this newsroom with the door shut, on the phone, noise all around him, and somehow hear the crackle of a bag of pretzels being opened by an unsuspecting reporter 20 desks away.

And suddenly, it's ''Hey, pal, howaya? What's going on? Hey, what's that? Yeah, sure, why not?''

His name is Steve Kurkjian. By title, he's a senior metro editor at the newspaper you're reading now, but that only gives a sliver of his story. In reality, he may be the most feared and respected reporter in town.

His nose for free food is surpassed only by his eye for news, and yesterday the legend was raised another notch. He was among the extraordinary reporters who won the Pulitzer Prize for public service, the most significant honor that a newspaper can get.

The Pulitzer, any Pulitzer, is the Holy Grail, the Academy Award for the ink-stained set, and most reporters carry the unfulfilled dream of winning one across their entire careers. Kurkjian, on the other hand, has had a key role in three, all for this paper, each in a different decade.

So you'll forgive my uncontrolled pride in the man, in the team, in the paper, in the business.

Globe reporters have spent nearly two years blasting through a culture of deference, a maze of legal obstacles, and a rigid screen of secrecy to expose child rape by Catholic priests and the attempts at the highest levels of the archdiocese to cover the problem up. On most days, newspapers strive to inform. On better days, we also manage to entertain. On rare days, we give voice to the voiceless and help those most in need, which is exactly what this paper did for countless victims of Catholic priests.

Marty Baron, the paper's editor, kicked it off by ordering the paper's lawyers to pursue sealed church documents, regardless of costs and consequences. The Spotlight Team, overseen by Ben Bradlee and Walter Robinson, the two most sophisticated newsmen I know, grabbed it and ran. When the first series ran, extra operators were summoned to the Globe to handle irate Catholics, but the calls of complaint never came.

Credit the tenacity of Michael Rezendes, the textured style of Sacha Pfeiffer, the methodical doggedness of Matt Carroll. They were quickly supported by the street smarts of Kevin Cullen, the elegance of Tom Farragher, and the intellectual firepower of Michael Paulson.

Which brings us back to Kurkjian. He didn't lead the team, but he embodies it. A local power broker once told me that the scariest words anyone in authority might ever hear are, ''I've got Steve Kurkjian on line one.'' By the time he's rung you up, take it as gospel that he's already culled through every possible incriminating record and talked to every damning source. The best you can do is pray, and that didn't do Cardinal Bernard F. Law a whole lot of good.

At 59, Kurkjian still outhustles the young pups, first in the door every morning, the last to leave at night, unless he's meeting his son or daughter, and then he's gone like a shot.

To look at him, you'd never imagine. His wizened face is constantly breaking into a smile that inevitably leads to his staccato laugh. There may not be a soul in the newsroom who doesn't count him as a friend. When someone complimented the uncharacteristically tasteful tie he wore on Pulitzer day, he said, ''Thanks. Feel free to use it some time.''

Yesterday, Kurkjian sat amid the piles of yellowed papers and boxes of documents and flashing computers where he's most at home, talking about being part of a team.

''I could never imagine doing anything else,'' he said.

And it's how to make the most out of life and to help others who had no other chance.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at mcgrory@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/8/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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