At a National Press Club dinner in Washington, DC, in April 2009, Sean Kirst, right, was presented the Ernie Pyle Award for human interest writing from the Scripps Howard Foundation.
August 2009 -- SUNY Fredonia alumnus and Dunkirk native Sean Kirst, ’81, a columnist at the Syracuse Post-Standard, recently received the Ernie Pyle Award for human interest writing.
The award is one of the Scripps Howard Foundation National’s National Journalism Awards. Kirst’s entry was a collection of columns focusing on stories of ordinary people in Upstate New York whose life experiences defined a challenge or a moment in time. The prize – a trophy and $10,000 – was presented at a dinner at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., in April.
The award is named for the Scripps correspondent who was killed by sniper fire during World War II. It “honors newspaper writing th
at most clearly exemplified the style and craftsmanship of the late Ernie Pyle, who wrote movingly about everyday people with everyday dreams. Human interest, warmth and the faculty of telling a story rank high in the judging.” Kirst noted his father was a great admirer of Pyle, making this award especially significant for him.
While an undergraduate, Kirst wrote for The Leader and worked part-time for the Dunkirk Evening Observer while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in English with a concentration in Professional Writing. He paid tribute to former English professors including Drs. Doug Shepard and George Sebouhian, and the late Drs. Richard Kline, Tristram Barnard and William Neville, who, in his words, “all had a powerful and lasting effect on my life and my craft.” Kirst added, “It is a great feeling to have Fredonia listed on my bio for this Ernie Pyle award.”
Kirst joined the Post-Standard’s Oswego County bureau in October 1988, later becoming a Syracuse city reporter. In 1991, he was named a sports columnist, and in 1996, a metropolitan columnist, which provided an outlet for his award-winning the human interest pieces.
Past winners of the Pyle award include Mike Royko, Greta Tilley, and Charles Kuralt. Since first given in 1953, only three other journalists at newspapers in the state have received the award, and all wrote for dailies in the greater New York City area.