Grand Forks Olive Garden reviewer, internet sensation Marilyn Hagerty to receive major journalism award

Hagerty joins other Al Neuwarth award winners Walter Cronkite, Katie Couric, and Garrison Keillor
Hagerty joins other Al Neuwarth award winners Walter Cronkite, Katie Couric, and Garrison Keillor

See also: Olive Garden review: the greatest restaurant review ever written

The Grand Forks Herald restaurant writer whose homey review of a new Olive Garden created a weeks-long internet sensation will receive a prestigious national journalism award that has previously gone to such luminaries as Walter Cronkite, Katie Couric, Helen Thomas, Larry King, 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt, and Garrison Keillor.

North Dakota newspaper columnist Marilyn Hagerty, 86, has been named to receive the 2012 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media for lifetime achievement. Hagerty has worked at the Grand Forks Herald since 1961. It apparently didn't hurt that she was also the first editor to hire the person the award is named after, USA Today founder Al Neuharth, when they worked at the University of South Dakota college newspaper 65 years ago.

Here's more on Hagerty's award and her improbable viral fame:

Al Neuharth himself will present the award to Hagerty at a ceremony at the University of South Dakota on October 4. In announcing the prize, Neuharth said: "Marilyn, my classmate back in the '40s and editor of the student paper, took a chance on me as rookie reporter, hired me for my first newspaper job and taught me vital lessons about the roles and responsibilities of professional journalists. Those same high principles that Marilyn preached as a young college editor 65 years ago define and distinguish her extraordinary and enduring career."

It's doubtful that Hagerty would be mentioned along with Walter Cronkite, however, if not for her inexplicably viral Olive Garden review last March, which described the new local franchise as "the largest and most beautiful restaurant now operating in Grand Forks," and described in minute detail her meal of salad, breadsticks, chicken Alfredo, and a glass of water.

Her earnest review of a chain restaurant that most big-city diners were already too familiar with struck a nerve on the irony-hungry internet. It was picked up by news aggregators and soon exploded into a genuine sensation, generating over a million hits for her original column and eventually leading to appearances on the The Today Show and Good Morning America, a story in the New York Times, and compliments from Anthony Bourdain.

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