Two alums win Pulitzer Prizes

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Clarification added below.

Mark Maremont ’80 and Usha Lee McFarling ’89 won Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism for Public Service and Explanatory Reporting, respectively. The awards, which are given by Columbia University, were announced Monday.

Maremont, who writes for the Wall Street Journal, was a history concentrator at Brown and graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He then received a master’s degree from the Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. The Journal won the Pulitzer for its series on “options backdating,” which Maremont helped report.

Backdating is a procedure whereby businesses grant stock options at a set price dated prior to the transaction. Companies can grant stock options at prices that are months or years old. Recipients can make a windfall if they receive their options at an old price substantially lower than the current price. Through backdating, business executives made millions of dollars on options granted at substantially lowered prices. Though backdating itself is not illegal in all instances, many companies did not disclose their engagement in the practice.

The reporting spurred investigations and the ouster of executives at UnitedHealth, CNET Networks Inc., McAfee Inc. and other companies.

McFarling, a former Herald reporter who concentrated in biology while at Brown, is currently a science reporter for the Los Angeles Times. She won the Pulitzer for co-authoring a five-part series titled “Altered Oceans,” which examined ecological problems plaguing oceans across the globe.

The first article in the series discussed the proliferation of toxic primitive organisms that harm larger ocean species as well as fishermen. Subsequent articles addressed increasing incidences of toxic red tides and threats to wildlife caused by toxic algae and bacteria, plastic debris and acidic seawater.

An article in Tuesday’s Herald (“Two alums win Pulitzer Prizes,” April 17) did not include a third Brown alum, James Bandler ’89, who won a Pulitzer Prize this year. Wall Street Journal reporter Bandler, like Mark Maremont ’80, won the Pulitzer Prize in Journalism for Public Service as part of the Journal team that investigated the options backdating story.