MU alumni celebrate Pulitzer Prize wins

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 | 8:00 p.m. CDT; updated 8:42 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, April 15, 2014

COLUMBIA — Click. Nothing. Click. Nothing. Click. Nothing.

Chris Hamby was sitting at his computer at the Center for Public Integrity on Monday afternoon, refreshing his Web browser over and over again. He was not bored, though — he was waiting.


Hamby jumped up and celebrated with the rest of his office. The results for the Pulitzer Prizes had just been posted.

Hamby is one of several MU graduates who were named 2014 Pulitzer Prize winners on Monday. Hamby, who earned his master's degree in investigative journalism from MU in 2010, won the investigative reporting award for his series on medical and legal fraud against coal miners with black lung, published by the Center for Public Integrity.

Although Hamby was excited to win, he also felt guilty.

"It's a bizarre feeling, because you won something by writing about people suffering and slowly suffocating to death," Hamby said. "It's just always trying to maintain your distance and your sanity. You spend a lot of time on the road and with people who are dying."

His 25,000-word investigative series looked into how lawyers and medical professionals in Appalachia were actively attempting to take away benefits from miners with black lung. It took about a year to report and more than a month to write.

The Pulitzer Prize is a prestigious award given to those who exhibit "excellence in journalism and the arts," according to the prize's website. To many who work in those fields, winning a Pulitzer Prize is one of the highest honors possible.

Steven Rich, who earned a master's degree in investigative and data journalism from MU in 2013 and is now a database editor for investigations at The Washington Post, won the public service award as a member of The Washington Post team for its contextualization of the National Security Agency's surveillance attempts made in tandem with The Guardian. The award was shared between The Washington Post and The Guardian.

Rich was sitting at the computer with his parents when he got the news of his Pulitzer win.

"They were very excited," Rich said. "Probably more excited than I was."

Rich is still in shock about the win, a feeling many of the winners share.

"I'm still kind of in awe," he said. "You don't do journalism for the awards, but when it happens, it hits hard."

The entire Boston Globe staff won the breaking news reporting award for its coverage of the Boston Marathon bombings. Among the staff are several MU graduates, including graphic artist Patrick Garvin, deputy director of photography and Page One photo editor Kim Chapin, assistant political editor Mike Bailey, and music critic James Reed.

With the usual champagne toast replaced with cupcakes, Garvin thought that the announcement of the staff's Pulitzer win Monday couldn't have been more appropriate — the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings was Tuesday.

"We were glad to be a part of it, but it was a good end to a tough year," Garvin said. "Even if we didn't win the award, we knew we did good work."

Jonathan Sperber, an MU history professor, was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in the biography category for his book, "Karl Marx: a Nineteenth-Century Life." Sperber has taught at MU since 1987.

Sperber had known that he was nominated for a Pulitzer since last year but had no idea that he was a finalist until Monday afternoon.

"When I came back from teaching my classes, I got a call from my editor (and they) told me that they'd seen the website and seen that I'd been one of the finalists, right in the biography category," Sperber said. "I was astonished."

Supervising editor is Elise Schmelzer.

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