David Shaw won the Pulitzer prize for his media reporting in the L.A. Times. He died tonight of complications from a brain tumor that was first discovered in May. His death was announced to the staff at 8:38 p.m. in a brief email from Jon Thurber, the paper's obituary editor. Thurber wrote the obituary posted on the Times website. It tells how Shaw became the first media reporter at a U.S. newspaper given the independence to write about his own paper, and he often critically dissected the Times coverage. It cost him some friends in the newsroom, and Thurber's obit candidly notes that when Shaw won the Pulitzer in 1991, the crowd that gathered to celebrate was smaller than usual and many bottles of champagne were "returned to the kitchen unopened."
"David believed in journalistic independence, and he definitely practiced it," said John S. Carroll, editor of The Times. "As a critic, he was fearless in exposing the shortcomings of his own newspaper, his colleagues and his profession. His findings weren't always popular, but they earned him a national reputation for insight and integrity."
Since 2002, Shaw had been writing about two of his passions, food and wine, for the paper's weekly Food section. He also continued to reflect on the media in a column that appeared in Sunday Calendar.
But for most of his 37 years at The Times, Shaw used his energies to dissect trends and issues in the print and electronic media.
"He became a kind of educator for the general public who could come away from his many articles with a greater understanding of the news," said Ben Bagdikian, a media critic himself and former dean of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. "His detail and clarity of writing was an enormous contribution to journalism."
Among Shaw's targets were movie criticism, best-seller lists, editorial cartooning, the use and abuse of political polls, the perceived influence of editorial endorsements in politics, coverage of the abortion issue, restaurant criticism, the Pulitzer Prize selection process, coverage of the pope, and obituary writing...
Shaw was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 1991 for his four-part series examining coverage of the McMartin molestation case. The case, which gained national attention, involved allegations that more than 60 children had been subject to sexual abuse and satanic rites while in the care of the McMartin Pre-School in Manhattan Beach. The legal proceedings dragged on for seven years, and ultimately no one was convicted of a crime.
Since his condition began to leak out late last month, Shaw's work has received some nice tributes. They came too late for him to enjoy, but perhaps his family got some solace from them. Shaw is survived by his wife, Lucy Stille, their son Lucas, two stepchildren and three step-grandchildren.
* Memorial page: A website for contributing memories has been posted online. Services are still pending. Tuesday 3:40 p.m.
SPJ statement: "The Greater Los Angeles Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists mourns the passing of Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw. He was a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, industry watchdog and a hard-working reporter. Mr. Shaw did not pull punches, holding even his own paper accountable, most notably in his reporting on the Los Angeles Times Magazine-Staples Center scandal. We send our condolences to Mr. Shaw's family, friends and his colleagues at the Times." Tuesday 3:45 p.m.