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Former Gazette photographer wins Pulitzer

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MARCIA A. NELESEN
April 22, 2011
— Who ever thinks he’ll win a Pulitzer Prize?

Gary Porter, a former Janesville resident and Gazette photographer, said he never did. On Monday, he learned he can add that honor to his numerous other awards.


Porter, 60, still was “kind of in a cloud” on Tuesday.


Porter won the coveted prize for his photographs that accompanied a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel series of stories about a sick boy and the doctors who saved his life using groundbreaking technology.


Doctors suspected a genetic mutation caused the child’s illness, and it was the first time DNA sequencing was done successfully for diagnostic purposes. The outcome will undoubtedly change medicine.


“It was the first time it was being done, and it was being done right there at Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee,” Porter said.


It was a heartwarming story and a great way to put a human face on the huge medical story, Porter said. The photo galleries posted online got as many hits as the stories, which was gratifying for a photographer, he said.


Becky Lang, one of the lead editors on the project, also is a former Gazette employee.


Porter worked as a Gazette photographer from 1976 to 1984. He graduated from Craig High School in 1968 and attended UW-Rock County. He married Diane Caldwell, whose parents still live in Janesville.


Porter has worked at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for about 27 years. He and his wife live in Wauwatosa and have three children.


Over the years, Porter has won many awards, including being named Wisconsin News Photographer of the Year six times. The Pulitzer Prize is $10,000 and will be split among five Journal Sentinel staff members.


Porter’s work has taken him around world. He traveled to India for stories on infant mortality, to China for a series on the economy and to Thailand for a look at Hmong migration. He is mostly self-taught.


Porter lauded his bosses at the Journal, who have put an emphasis on investigative stories.


“With cuts in newspapers, they just decided we can’t try to be everything to everybody and (decided) to really concentrate on stories that make a difference in Milwaukee and the community,” he said.


Investigative and explanatory journalism is important but often is the first to go with cuts in the industry, he said.


Porter gets inspired when he is able to tell stories about something important, he said. He gravitates to documentary photography.


“You always want the photograph to be informative and say something,” he said. “Otherwise, there’s no reason for it to be in the newspaper.


“You have to want to tell a story.”


Porter said he’s always heard that winning a Pulitzer will change your life. A Journal Sentinel reporter who won last year confirmed that for him.


Even so, he had three assignments when he called into work on Tuesday.


“It’s back to the routine,” Porter said with a laugh. “It was great while it lasted.”


In the news business, everything is yesterday’s news, he said.



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