Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Former area photojournalist wins Pulitzer

Renee C. Byer, left, celebrates her Pulitzer Prize with Cyndie French, one of the subjects of her touching series "A Mother's Journey."

A photojournalist who went to school and got her first media job in west-central Illinois won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography, it was announced yesterday.

Renee C. Byer, 48, of the Sacramento Bee, won for her work on "A Mother's Journey," a series published last summer chronicling the final year in the life of a dying boy and his mom.

A graduate of Bradley University, Byer was a staff photographer at the Peoria Journal Star in the 1980s before moving to daily newspapers in Holyoke, Mass., Hartford, Ct., Portland, Ore., Seattle, Wash. and Sacramento.

"In presenting the $10,000 feature photography prize to Byer, the judges described her entry as an 'intimate portrayal of a single mother and her young son as he loses his battle with cancer'," writes Bee reporter Dorothy Korber, who also quoted Byer.

"In a situation like this, your instincts as a person are to try to help," Byer said. "But as a journalist, you have to step back and let things unfold as they naturally would. It can be very, very painful.

"I was documenting a story that needed to be told, and it was a gift to be allowed to be there. Throughout, I had a bigger vision that -- because of what I was witnessing -- it would bring hope to other families."

Byer said she saw "A Mother's Journey" as an exploration on several levels: the financial impact on a family struggling with a tragic situation, health care shortages that led to maddening delays, and, finally, the very personal and heartbreaking loss of a child.

One of the first people to congratulate Byer was Cyndie French, the mother whose son Derek passed away.

Here's a link to the Bee story (free registration may be required) --http://www.sacbee.com/101/story/156190.html

Here's a link to a Peoria Journal Star piece -- http://www.pjstar.com/stories/041707/TRI_BCV5LT90.029.php