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A journalism student who found out she won a Pulitzer in class (cjr.org)
614 points by mrleiter 11 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 101 comments

Much of the credit goes to The Cincinnati Enquirer for having the ethics to include interns on the byline. As they should, but not everyone would do so.

This is exactly it. This was clearly a team effort. Like 60 people won the same Pulitzer. But it's quite clear that even as an intern, this individual's contributions were very important.

I love team awards.

Team awards don’t seem to exist for the advertising industry even tho its a team effort to do the work to win them.

That’s a shame spreading the credit helps build loyalty which keeps those award winning teams in place.

To play devil's advocate, an intern with a Pulitzer (or similarly prestigious award) on their resume is going to have a lot of job opportunities.

An intern whose work won the Pulitzer but wasn't listed on the byline is probably not going to want to work for you again, for fear of that happening again. It goes both ways.

Unfortunately it's accepted in the industry not to get bilines while you're an internet or a new guy, so I'm sure interns don't have any expectations because of this culture.

> an internet

I realise it's probably auto correct, yet that's still so out of http://n-gate.com :)

A hackernews doesn't follow the Prime Directive

.. bows head, humbly.

You’d be surprised how dire the situation is in most newsrooms, and how petty the competition is.

Its not just newsrooms. Many teams allow internal politiking to take precedence over working together. As a result, they're at war with themselves _and_ trying to compete in the market for customers.

As you might imagine, teams which do not have this conflict have substantially more time to focus on their customers.

If your head hasn’t been in the ground for the last twenty years you should have an idea on how bad the business is.

Here is a recent article about the situation if indeed your head is below ground: http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-lopez-news-041...

I found this comment fairly condescending and presumptuous. Not everyone has the time and ability to follow everything. That doesn't mean their "head is below the ground." Twenty years ago, I was an infant.

Which is exactly why you’re going to attract better intern candidates.

The Clio Awards do (source: I won one as part of the Media Lab team at Bleacher Report).

They credit the team but specifically name the individual members as well.

The Clios are pretty big as industry awards go.

Peggy worked on Glo-Coat, but only Don won the Clio.

I’m assuming they got better since the fictional 60s ;)

Yes, She had the idea to create the database out of unstructured paper arrest slips which gave coverage and statistical credibility to the effort. Key in the entire operation.

Exactly this. She deserves the attention she's getting. And she did the grunt work daily, which is important to call out. Reminds me of the ChicagoCrime.org feet-on-street data wrangling story. A great idea and the persistence to follow through.

Not to mention visiting the county jail each morning, when most interns would just be out getting Starbucks.

> when most interns would just be out getting Starbucks.

On the contrary, most interns I know wouldn't be doing this because of how overworked they are doing the grunt work.

Agreed. New Zealand’s semi national paper prints unattributed reddit comments on a regular basis. It’s grim.

Da fuck? What am I spending all that time on reddit for then?

But seriously, I am actually an award winning writer (and it's not even my profession, it's just a hobby) and I do comment on reddit a lot... they're stealing comments without attribution? Ethics aside, that's just terrible journalism to say the least.

I got quoted in international business times, which struck me as funny.


That comment was from Reddit.

> Da fuck? What am I spending all that time on reddit for then?

Whenever I see youtube clips on evening news, my thought is the exact opposite - why am I bothering to watch this, when I can just head over to YouTube and catch it without a pair of talking heads doing their own version of a Reaction Video about it?

I'm sure that sense of ethic will pay for itself for years to come. They will get the best students applying for internships.

Honestly why should they? The Interns did exactly what they were told, the went and jotted down details. Is that Pulitzer Prize worthy work? Does the helper who whipes Einstein’s blackboard during the break deserve partial credit for what he put on it?

I get that it’s a fun story but it honestly just seems redicules.

Had you actually read the article, you would have seen that:

> From there, she took it upon herself to create a database for Enquirer reporters, documenting the time, location, and nature of every opioid-related arrest that occured over those days.

The article also says that because of that database they were able to fill gaps in the article and make it as compelling as it was.

She seems worthy of being added to the byline, but I don't think its right for you to be so dismissive of OP's point.

GP wrote a statement that sounds like "interns should be added to the byline for pulitzer prizes." The way its written sounds like a general statement. In reality, I'm not sure this is a reasonable expectation (as in, the word "should" seems inappropriate.)

We should consider what makes someones work Pullitzer prize worthy. I'd speculate (because I don't know much about journalism) that it really comes down to doing outstanding work, more than is usually expected of any individual, and for succeeding on metrics that are hard to succeed on.

This intern did something valuable, adding things to the database, and probably coming up with the idea for the database herself, but does this meet the criteria of being truly standout, incredible work?

The nature of this particular award that it was given to the entire staff who contributed substantially to the coverage, seems like she is thus worthy, but I don't think treating OP like they're being ridiculous is reasonable. This is a worthwhile question. I think a lot of people on this site are familiar with awards being given to people who don't seem to deserve it, so investigating this topic, for a case that resembles that pattern, doesn't seem so offensive or outrageous as you've kind of termed it.

It was a series of articles and she was key to the story. It was a team award, so all authors who got a byline were included.

The OP compared her work to someone “wiping down Einstein’s blackboard”. The dismissal of that comment was entirely warranted.

I agree that it's something to be discussed, but OP was quite disparaging with his comparison to somebody cleaning a chalkboard. Providing the interns participate in the investigation, as they did in this case, they should be included in any award given to the team that wrote the piece.

It's an interesting award. Walter Duranty won a Pulitzer for denying the holodomor, and he was awarded a Pulitzer for his work, a Pulitzer that the Times has yet to address.

The reality that Duranty denied was comparable to the holocaust. Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of people died and the Times apologized for it.

God, that's awful. They said that they won't withdraw it because he didn't deliberately attempt to deceive anyone... that is their standard?


> Does the helper who whipes Einstein’s blackboard during the break deserve partial credit for what he put on it?

If the helper knows what to wipe off and what to leave up for when Einstein comes back, then I'd say yes. That's a more fitting analogy in this case.

Yeah, the helper who wipes Einstein's blackboard should get some credit as well. Today's researchers can't do research properly (in France) because they spend most of their time doing admin and manual stuff since the government decided all those jobs were useless. Looking down on those that work in the shadows isn't surprising but still. That's why a guy from CNRS rejected the bonus he was offered for getting a EU research grant as he considered it was unfair for the rest of the lab workers who played an important part in him getting the grant.

This is the series:


It is a tremendous work of crafting mixed media.

That's so painful to read. I wouldn't know any of those people because they live half a world away, however I know many examples nearby.

Just one excerpt:

"Elliana, who turns eight months old today, is here for a checkup at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. She’s a patient at a special clinic that treats babies for neonatal abstinence syndrome, which occurs when babies are born to mothers addicted to heroin.

The infants can suffer tremors, sleeplessness, seizures and other withdrawal symptoms.

Elliana gurgles and wobbles a bit when Uebel sits her on the examining table. As she checks out the baby, Uebel quizzes Gaffney on Elliana’s progress.

“Is she holding things?”

“She takes stuff and then drops it out of her chair,” Gaffney says. “She looks at it, then she looks at me and laughs.”

“Good,” Uebel says.

The clinic’s goal is to monitor the babies, but also to support the mothers. Many, like Gaffney, used heroin and other opiates for years.

Gaffney, 28, quit cold turkey after learning she was pregnant. She’s living now with the baby at First Step Home, a treatment center in Walnut Hills. They plan to move into an apartment together soon.

After years of addiction, Gaffney’s goals are modest. She wants to raise her child in a normal home. She wants a normal life.

Uebel finishes the examination. “She looks real, real good,” she says.

Gaffney is relieved. She scoops Elliana into her arms and takes her appointment card for her next visit to the clinic in December.

“See you then,” she says.

(Ten days later, Gaffney is dead from a heroin overdose.)"

Those parents are pretty amazing. To see their daughter go down that line and then to step up to the place and do it all over again in their old age.

wow, that really does hurt to read.

This kind of reporting is becoming an endangered species.

It requires a lot of man-hours, and isn't as profitable as the minimal effort required to regurgitate whatever the latest sensational scandal is.

I love how even a story about excellent journalism can be turned into an insult of the profession at large.

As far as I can tell, there is an avalanche (that’s a reference) of excellent, deeply reported stories, making good use of technology, on important subjects both titilating and not.

Just go through the other award winners, or the webby award nominees in the relevant categories.

Maybe it's just me but I didn't read the comment that way. I'm sure everyone in the business would prefer to do that kind of deep reporting, but the economy of the business just doesn't reward that. It's a real problem but I don't think anyone is blaming the journalists. If anything, the ones to blame are the people reading the scandalous stories.

I'm certainly not perfect, but I'm increasingly good at ignoring click-bait links.

EDIT: fixed a critical typo

I think the ways people find news on the net are also to blame.

I knew someone who worked for a company that monitored newswires and other media all day watching for breaking stories. They then rewrote them in an SEO or viral friendly way, propagated them through social media using bots or an influencer network. By being the first to publish something that ranked on news aggregators, they could pull in views and get ad money.

If the story was from a subscription newswire I guess this is okay. If you are writing a story reporting someone else reported a story you are kinda stealing revenue from the people who did the hunting.

But whoever does that will win, and writing a story that will spread then getting it to the aggregators is a skill.

> I love how even a story about excellent journalism can be turned into an insult of the profession at large.

I understand why you feel that way. It's clearly a broadside, aimed squarely at where journalism comes from. Where else can that be but professional journalists?

Yet, is it perhaps possible that the comment to which you have taken exception might also be understood by some to be one in the direction of the business models that suppport, fund, and direct professional journalists?

I'm not criticizing journalists. It's not the journos who are deciding to write clickbait, that's a corporate decision.

It's kind of ironic to hear that on Hacker News considering the decline in local investigative reporting is largely due to social media and ad-tech in general.

It's so hard-hitting. I just read the first day and was left crying for all those people... Actual people destroying their lives and irreversibly impacting their loved one's lives.

All lawmakers should be forced to read this article, maybe they'll do something about it if they come to realize that you can't tax the dead.

Gods above, "tremendous" is an understatement. I don't think I'd be strong enough to work on a story like that.

That story was absolutely amazing. The most shocking part of it to me was that there is an organized effort to ban cops from carrying Naxalone, because some people actually believe that heroin addicts deserve to die...

We live in a sick world...

> because some people actually believe that heroin addicts deserve to die...

You only have to look towards the Philippines to know the kind of results such an attitude if left unchecked can engender.

Citation? I find it a strange concept.

In general there is an argument against which is - it's better suited to medical professionals. Which is far from "because heroin addicts deserve to die"

At best a we don't care argument.

Journalism - real journalism, not blogging - matters. I've been thinking of buying a newspaper subscription again because I feel that even though newspapers typically lag 24 hours or so behind what you can read online someone needs to keep these people employed so they can do there very necessary jobs. I don't think it is possible to have anything resembling a democracy in the modern age without a free press.

I started feeling that way a couple of years ago, and currently have three online newspaper subscriptions, two national and one local. I mostly end up getting to those stories from Twitter links (or from facebook for stories in the local paper), rather than the front page of the paper, but real journalism is absolutely vital to a functioning democracy (and ours is in a dangerous place right now), so I want to contribute to that.

As an aside: WaPo is cheap-as-free if you have an Amazon Prime subscription (several months free, and then the price goes up to something like the price of a cup of coffee every month), and they've broken a number of really important stories just in the past couple of years. I can't think of many reasons for folks who already have Prime to not have a WaPo subscription. It's good, neutral and well-sourced, journalism at a great price, so it's one of my national paper subscriptions.

NY Times and Washington Post were breaking a lot of important stories. I decided to subscribe to NY Times - because Washington Post has the backing of billionaire Jeff Bezos. I felt NY Times needed the $10 a month from me more.

I really wanted to get paper delivery, but the price was just too high. Also it would probably be unrealistic that I actually read the paper - as I do most of my reading when I have a few idle minutes.

A few years ago I subscribed to The Economist...you can find it at a good price on slickdeals once in a while. Their articles were highly indepth and provided a good international perspective...even in magazine format I couldn't read even half of the content.

NYTimes is my other national subscription...but I didn't mention them because I'm a bit more ambivalent about them. I'm uncomfortable with how eager they've been to support war; not just the Iraq war, when they published a number of falsehoods that helped sell the war, but more recently as well (even while publishing a bunch of "mea culpa" articles about their role in selling the falsehoods that led to the Iraq war). The Times seemingly never met a foreign war they didn't like.

They also have a history of compromising the integrity of their stories or editorial pages to suit the government (e.g. WRT the Snowden leaks, and war coverage) or corporations (e.g. on climate change). I still think they're a top-tier organization in the field, certainly above 99% of everything else out there, I just wish I could trust them more. That they're great 99 times out of 100 doesn't mean it's not really frustrating when their rare fuck ups are so monumental and occasionally disastrous in their outcome (Iraq war, President Trump; NYTimes didn't cause either problem, but they helped).

The problem is that most newspaper are mostly total crap and a good article once in a while.

There would need to be some sort of model where you pay regularly to keep a whole team of people employed.

That's fine. The crap makes money to fund the good bits. Just need to someone to curate the good bits. For example, WaPo is funded by scads of anti-Trump gossip shared all over social media, but has occasiobal real investigate news.

This is why I subscribe. Journalism is really important and it’s been hit really hard by the shift in the advertising industry.

This goes double if you subscribe to something in addition to the NYT or WaPo — a ton of local stories have been ignored because the regional press was cut to the bone and there’s really no substitute for reporters who live in the area.

That's literally the reason I subscribe to a newspaper in my country. Even though I hardly read an article they write, I want to make sure they still exists the day someone need to break out a watergate-like story.

> I've been thinking of buying a newspaper subscription again

I do this!

Blogging and tweeting (and podcasting, and Facebook Liveing, er c) are also Real Journalism.

The medium is not the message, in this case. Content matters, not format.

Not even comparable, but one of the most incredible moments in my life was while I was studying at university. I joined a NASA competition with a friend and we worked really hard to win, and so we did.

The next morning in class, as I went through the door, my classmates stood up and started cheering and clapping at me. I had some sort of happiness brain meltdown where I didn't even know how to react. From that moment, students I didn't know from all majors stopped me at the campus cafeteria and hallways to ask me about it.

I think being recognized by your peers in this way gives a different kind of perspective/feeling that I had never felt before.

It sounds like she earned it too, tracking and pursuing data and building it into a usable databank.

Good job.

That is both super amazing and uniquely hard to imagine experiencing. It has to be surreal, in a journalism class, learning you've won Journalism's highest honor. I thought it also interesting that the students were more concerned that they would get in trouble for using a phone in class than with the import of the event.

I don't think she will have much difficulty finding a job after she graduates with that on her resume :-). I was trying to imagine a CS student applying for a job where it mentions they have already won the Turing award. That would be crazy.

I think the bit about not wanting to interrupt the class may also have to do with the lecturer. She's an amazing bad-ass herself:

"Her investigations have led to more than 50 criminal cases against politicians, businessmen and public officials, and pursued by law-enforcement in Costa Rica, the United Kingdom, France, Finland and the United States." (https://journalism.columbia.edu/columbia-journalism-school-a...)

I guess the reason that this is possible in a field like journalism is because it's no theory-light in comparison to a theory-heavy discipline like CS. The extreme of theory-lightness would be something like swimming where Michael Phelps can break a world record at 15.

Not really. Pulitzer is for one piece of good work. Bill Gates proved a pancake theorem in college. Many Thiel fellows are under 21 doing award winning work in sciences. Jacob Lurie won the Westinghouse/Intel talent search in high school with professional quality mathematician work.

Lots college kids win startup hackathon awards, akin to the Pulitzer. The Pulitzer doesn't honor the best work or the greatest achievements, just a sampling of great work.

Congratulations to her. I remember reading the piece at the time (linked from here actually!) and thinking it was a sad but powerful expose on the epidemic. It's so easy to see the statistics and just move on, but the Enquirer team did a fantastic job at providing human insight and showing the stark impact the opioid crisis is having on entire communities.

Is swearing, especially saying "fuck you", usual way to congratulate someone in US?

Yep! I'm the same age as her, and this is how we all speak to each other immediately upon earning/winning/receiving something incredible. It's from a place of love, but only works with friends and close acquaintances.

Sorry to hear that. Must be a cultural gap, but I can't find any justification to swear happily in random conversation - friend or not. Not to mention the one that conveys congratulations. If being close with someone is the explanation then, well, I really don't know what to say. There are so many words that could be used instead...

I feel the same as you, and I think it's worth thinking about. At the risk of sounding very "get off my lawn"-ish (I'm only early 30s!) I think it's related to the fact that our lives are now giant public soap operas being played out in social media for everyone to see. So the swearing at a person in congratulations is telling that how an envious external audience member would feel about their accomplishment, while the person you are swearing at takes absolutely no offense and is very complimented.

Sorry to hear that? That's a little insulting.

Swear words don't have to be negative. Language changes with each generation, words find new uses and connotations and intensities. I for one enjoy my generation's creative takes on conventional swear words!

It's conveying jealousy / flattery in the context of that text message.

They’re basically just expressing envy. You wouldn’t say that to a work colleague but a close friend sure.


Where are you getting this idea from?

Read the article before commenting?

I did, thanks for the tip though.

I missed the "FUCK YOU" in the text message image. Sorry!!

She won a pulitzer not just while in _a_ class, but while she was in a _journalism_ class.

They should have gone upstairs and pulled her out of class beforehand and demanded she sit in the announcement proceedings.

I'd wager that the intersection of the sets of people who knew they were going to win the Pulitzer and the people who knew she was anywhere near the event was entirely empty.

I only made it about 1/2 way through the story, it's so awful I had to just close it and look away... I can't believe this is really happening right now in America, what can possibly be done to help people, that for the most part, don't want to be helped?

That she created a database to document things and it was used by others is amazing to the nerd in me. Congrats to her! I think she will do amazing things in the future — she’s so humble.

Legend! Well done lass!



I think your point is that awards are overrated.

Awards could be made to matter, I suppose, but if they are simply a matter of culture war signaling I'm not inclined to take them very seriously.

I'm sure Pulitzer winners will try to cope with this.

No, the Pulitzer prize was awarded to a team that included a rising masters student.


It was quite easy to figure out what the story she worked on what about, as approximately a third of the linked article is devoted to explaining that story and how she contributed to it.

Is there any gender/race stuff here? The linked story doesn't bring her race up at all, and only mentions her gender to the extent that it uses pronouns. I went and did a quick google news search, and didn't see any discussion of it in those terms, though I'll certainly admit I might have missed it.

For that matter, in this comments section, you're the only one who brought either of those things up. What's up with that?

Did they change the link? There are like 5 paragraphs about the story in the article I just read.

Note that the linked story is _about_ the fact that a female philipino undergrad won a Pulitzer, but does not explain much about about the story she reported on that won a Pulitzer

I'm not arguing that she shouldn't have won a Pulitzer for her reporting if her reporting were genuinely worthy of a Pulitzer (it wasn't, but that's another story,) but... srsly?

> Note that the linked story is _about_ the fact that a female philipino undergrad won a Pulitzer

Nowhere in the article is mentioned that she's a philipino.

> but does not explain much about about the story she reported on that won a Pulitzer

   Published in September 2017, the story, “Seven Days of Heroin,” prompted a nationwide conversation about the opioid crisis, reflected in newsrooms around the country.  
Just follow the link to the story and read the first paragraphs.

> I'm not arguing that she shouldn't have won a Pulitzer for her reporting if her reporting were genuinely worthy of a Pulitzer

Who would argue that and expect to be taken seriously?

> (it wasn't, but that's another story,)

Have you even read it?

So cool!!! What a slayer

That’s awesome! But I kept getting distracted thinking “why does safari cut her face and legs get in portrait mode”

I don't know about Safari, but the website kinda sucks in general.

I wasn't able to scroll for the first few minutes the page was open. I switched tabs to whine about it here, switched back, and suddenly I could scroll.

Actually it seems like the image is actually that way for some reason...

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