Four University of Arizona School of Journalism alumni — all graduates within the last five years — had a hand in the Los Angeles Times winning the Pulitzer Prize for its staff coverage of the San Bernardino mass shooting.
UA alumni Brittny Mejia (2014), Stephen Ceasar (2009) and Marisa Gerber (2011) were part of the reporting team, while Kristina Bui (2013) pitched in as a copy editor on the coverage of the Dec. 2, 2015, attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. The shooting left 14 people dead and 24 injured, becoming the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States since Sept. 11, 2001.
Judges awarded the Times staff a Pulitzer this month in Breaking News Reporting, "for exceptional reporting, including both local and global perspectives, on the shooting in San Bernardino and the terror investigation that followed."
Mejia shared a byline on the Dec. 13 story, "The Pursuit," while Ceasar contributed to coverage Dec. 3 and 5. Gerber added reporting to the Dec. 4 coverage. Bui helped copy-edit some of the live updates online and also worked on the print coverage.
"The best part of my job is the encouragement I get from my editor and colleagues, and the freedom to report stories I love," said Mejia, who was an Arizona Daily Wildcat reporter while at the UA. "I have the best job, honestly."
The Pulitzer was the 44th for the Los Angeles Times, and it comes more than 30 years after three other UA grads were part of a Times series on Latinos that won the paper the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 1984. UA journalism alumni Frank O. Sotomayor, who graduated in 1966, was the series co-editor and Jose Galvez, a 1972 graduate, was the lead photographer. Virginia Escalante, who was a journalism minor and later taught journalism at UA, was a key reporter.
"Congrats Marisa, Brittny, Stephen and Kristina — and to their instructors," Sotomayor wrote on Facebook after the 2016 Pulitzer announcement.
Today, two other UA alumni are on the Times' staff: Nicole Santa Cruz, who graduated from the UA in 2009, is a Times reporter along with 2012 graduate Luke Money, who joined the Times Community News in Costa Mesa in February.
Santa Cruz is the Times' lead reporter in charge of The Homicide Report, an interactive map, database and blog that details homicides that occur within Los Angeles County. Since joining the Times' community paper in March after a three-year stint as a political reporter at the Santa Clarita Signal, Money has covered Costa Mesa City Hall.
When Bui looks around the Times newsroom, the copy editor said she sometimes feels as if she is back at the UA School of Journalism.
"It is pretty great to have so many UA alumni around," said Bui, who worked with Mejia and Money at the Arizona Daily Wildcat, serving as editor-in-chief during her time at the UA. Bui also was a student reporter for UANews.org.
"It reminds me of home," Bui said of the Times.
Mejia said the UA alumni at the Times have remained bonded.
"We've maintained the friendship we built there," Mejia said. "And while I didn't meet Marisa or Stephen while I was in school, they've both helped me a lot since I started here. Marisa is actually my mentor."
Mejia also credits her instructors at the UA and time at the Wildcat for shaping her young career.
"My professors pushed me to get better and apply to internships," Mejia said, adding that her Wildcat adviser, the now-retired Mark Woodhams, "never let me give up on a story and always helped guide me."
By: Mike Chesnick, UA School of Journalism