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Mississippi College Graduate Mark Hester and Oregonian Editorial Team Win Pulitzer

April 29, 2014

When “The Oregonian” editorial team spotlighted efforts to curb rising costs for the state’s public pension system, the hard work led to the Portland newspaper’s eighth Pulitzer Prize.

Mississippi College graduate Mark Hester joined the celebration as a key part of the award-winning team of four writers.

A recipient of an MBA at the University of Texas, Hester served at “The Oregonian” for 18 years, working as a business editor and sports editor before joining the editorial board in 2012.

A member of MC’s Class of 1982, Hester received congratulations from friends and former colleagues thousands of miles away on the Clinton campus.

“This is huge!,” said Mississippi College communication professor Phyllis Seawright. The MC graduate summed up the excitement in the Department of Communication after the “Oregonian” garnered the prestigious national journalism honor in mid-April.

Hester served as editor of “The Mississippi Collegian” during his junior and senior years at the Baptist-affiliated university. He graduated with a dual degree in business and communication.

Writers Erik Lukens, Susan Nielsen, Len Reed and Mark Hester devoted a great deal of  their energy focused on Oregon’s Public Employees Retirement System. “A pretty significant percentage of our work over the past year involved that topic,” Hester said. “And the editorials had some impact.”

The award came as a complete surprise to the Portland newspaper’s editorial team. “We literally had no clue we were even a finalist.”

Hester’s newspaper experience in the Magnolia State stretched back to internships at the “Laurel Leader-Call” and “Jackson Daily News” before working two years following his MC graduation at the “Alabama Journal” in Montgomery. He’s also worked full-time at newspapers in Spokane, Washington, and San Antonio, Texas.

Going to Mississippi College and taking the business-education route, Hester said, was “the best decision I ever made, not just because of the friendships I made, but because I developed expertise in what would prove to be an emerging field in journalism. Certainly, business knowledge helps when writing about a topic like pensions.”

Over his career, Hester said, he’s been in the right place much of the time. “That started at MC. I also have no doubt that God was part of it.”

The award-winning journalist said he appreciated the freedom that his academic adviser, the late communication professor Billy Lytal, and Norman Gough, the “Collegian” adviser, gave him as the college newspaper’s editor.

Meanwhile, Hester’s accomplishments are still receiving kudos from faculty at MC’s School of Business and the Department of Communication.

“He’s an outstanding individual,” said Cliff Fortenberry, chairman of the Department of Communication. Hester once was honored as the Communication Department Alumnus of the Year.

Having a Pulitzer Prize winner from Mississippi College is something to be proud of, Fortenberry said. Hester, he noted, has won other awards during nearly two decades at one of America’s premier daily newspapers.

Before joining the Oregon newspaper’s staff of editorial writers, Hester served as the paper’s sports editor from 2005-2012. “For those who think sports is fun and games, this was the hardest job I ever had.”

Photo: Mark Hester, middle, listens as Oregonian Executive Editor Peter Bhatia discusses the editorial staff's Pulitzer Prize at a newsroom meeting. Len Reed, another member of the four-writer team that won the award is in the background. Photo by Beth Nakamura, The Oregonian