Decade-Old Daily News Pulitzer Beef Rekindled by Journalist’s Return is already stirring the pot, albeit unintentionally.

A decade-old beef about how to divvy credit for a series of Pulitzer-recognized Philadelphia Daily News editorials has been given new life by the rise of a new news organization in town.

The editorial series “Acres of Neglect” — an in-depth look at neglect of Philadelphia’s park system — ran in the Daily News in 2001. It was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in editorial writing in 2002, losing out to a Los Angeles Times series of editorials about the mentally ill. 

Two writers on the Daily News series — Sandy Shea and Carol Towarnicky — say they’ve never been given the credit they deserve on the series. And they say that Frank Burgos — then the editorial page editor of the paper, now the managing editor of the soon-to-launch website — has taken too much credit.

“I think it’s important to set the record straight,” said Shea, who now holds Burgos’ old job as the DN’s editorial page editor.

Burgos defends his contribution, however, and has backing from Zack Stalberg, the recently retired head of Committee of Seventy who was the Daily News’ top editor at the time.

“I would call Frank the driving force. If I recall correctly, Carol and Sandy did most of the writing and research and added a tremendous amount of passion to it,” Stalberg said, later adding: “I think all of these folks we’re talking about deserve to consider themselves (Pulitzer) finalists.”

Burgos’ reappearance in Philadelphia media circles reignited the old argument. Earlier this month, it was announced that he will be the managing editor of, the new news website being started by managing director Lexie Norcross, daughter of George Norcross, the former co-owner of the Inquirer and Daily News. Burgos’ bio material with that announcement called him a “Pulitzer Prize finalist”; his LinkedIn biography says that he “initiated, co-wrote and edited” the series.

Shea and Towarnicky (who took a buyout from the paper in 2005) both say they wrote the entirety of the series, and that Burgos shouldn’t take credit for having co-written the editorials.

“He edited the series, but Carol and I wrote it,” Shea said Sunday. He has a part in the initiation, but the co-wrote part is inaccurate.”

“I object to that,” Towarnicky said of the “co-wrote” classification. “He wasn’t involved in the writing of it and he certainly wasn’t involved in the reporting of it. We wrote it.”

The two also object to the characterization of Burgos as a “finalist” for the Pulitzer Prize. The entry listed the Daily News’ editorial board as the nominee.

Shea and Towarnicky said they became aware only late in the process that they hadn’t been given specific credit in the nomination. They say they objected and asked for clarification — both before and after the prizes that year were announced — to no avail. Naming the entire editorial board as the nominee, the women said, departed from the standard Pulitzer practice of naming the actual writers of the editorials.

“We wrote this. We think our names should be on it,” Towarnicky said. “We asked many times, separately and together, that we be credited for the work we did.”

“Frank was pretty adamant that he wasn’t going to correct the record,” Shea said, adding that she also made the request to Stalberg. “We asked a number of times, because as these things go, when you enter the work of two reporters and writers, it’s under the names of the people who did the work.”

Shea shared the Daily News’ 2002 coverage of the the Pulitzer announcements, which contained this characterization of the paper’s entry:

“The series, which spanned more than a month last spring and continues today, was written by editorial board members Sandra Shea and Carol Towarnicky. It was directed by Editorial Page Editor Frank Burgos, who initiated the series.”

Burgos did not respond directly to an inquiry for comment. Instead, issued a statement on his behalf.

“We are surprised this issue is now being raised after more than a decade and upon Frank’s return to the Philadelphia media market. The editor of the Daily News at the time, Zack Stalberg, credits Frank with being an integral and driving force behind the conception and development of the series. There can be no legitimate dispute of the Pulitzer Prize Board’s nomination and accreditation of the Daily News’ entire ‘editorial board,’ rather than only citing individuals. The series was the work of a far broader team than just two or three people, as the team also included other members of the editorial page, photographers, and graphic designers. Frank would never want to take credit away from any of the able and talented professionals who put the series together, and he never has.”

Stalberg added that Burgos was key to getting the series nominated for a Pulitzer; he called Stalberg to remind him of the nomination deadline as it approached.

“If he hadn’t annoyed me with this phone call, it never would’ve been nominated in the first place,” Stalberg said, and the dispute might never have materialized.

Among the allies of Shea and Towarnicky, however, there is a sense the two women were denied credit that male writers happily grab. Towarnicky, for her part, said she hoped for a bit of recognition after spending most of her career in relative anonymity.

“It was very disappointing to me, because I spent 25 years writing unsigned editorials,” she said. “ The bulk of what I wrote doesn’t have my name on it.”

“No one understands better than we do that a newspaper comes out every day because of the work of a large group of talented people,” said Shea, “and that is particularly the case at the Daily News. But the Pulitzer category we are discussing is for ‘editorial writing,’ not for editorial production or even editorial pages. Frank deserves credit for editing an acclaimed series. But not for co-writing it.”

Stalberg, who now lives in New Mexico, is frustrated that the series — and the career high of being Pulitzer finalists — remains a point of contention among his old team.

“I love all these people,” he said. “I’m sad that years later people are still fighting over who should get credit.”

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