UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumni contribute to Pulitzer Prize-winning pandemic coverage

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Four UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism alumni were recipients of the Pulitzer Prize for public service.

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Chloe Reynolds, UC Berkeley School of Journalism alumna, did not know the 2021 Pulitzer Prize awards were being announced until she found herself in a livestream with her editors in suits.

An otherwise standard workday as a news assistant at The New York Times ended with the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for public service being awarded to the team that Reynolds had worked with.

Reynolds was one of four recent Graduate School of Journalism graduates who contributed to the award-winning coverage. Reynolds, Yuriria Ávila, Barbara Harvey and Alex Matthews collected data as they tracked COVID-19 cases around the nation. They looked to places including nursing homes, prisons and colleges as they collected the necessary information.

The graduates were part of 80 Graduate School of Journalism students who helped The New York Times with its pandemic coverage, according to David Barstow, the school’s head of investigative reporting, in a press release.

Simone Landon, an assistant graphics editor at The New York Times, noted that Barstow, who is a former New York Times reporter, volunteered his students in April 2020.

Ávila, Harvey and Matthews joined Landon’s team and began tracking states’ reopenings and COVID-19 cases. They gathered data on mask mandates, capacity limits and social distancing measures that were displayed on a map published daily, Ávila said.

“I really like the fact that numbers help you find stories and also make a story stronger by providing context, a full picture of the situation,” Ávila said. “Data, contrary to other people’s beliefs, can be humanizing by showing certain things.”

To gather the data for the people named in the piece, “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss,” the journalists combed through obituaries. Ávila added that she was saddened at seeing the disproportionate losses in certain communities, as she was responsible for reading the obituaries of Hispanic individuals who died of COVID-19.

Reynolds noted that hearing people’s experiences during the pandemic also made her recognize her own privileges.

Landon said the award was the result of the work of more than several hundred contributors. She added that she was proud of the campus graduates for their dedication and attention to detail.

She noted that while they reported and contextualized the truth in an accessible way, the trajectory of the pandemic showed that information was not enough. Landon said this affirmed the necessity of journalism for her.

“If I hadn’t been trying to understand this in so much depth and in all its complexity, it may have been an even more challenging year,” Landon said. “We had a front-row seat to information and that was, in a lot of ways, helpful on a personal level to make it through the last 16 months.”

Contact Andie Liu at [email protected], and follow her on Twitter at @andiemliu.