SOC graduate students part of Pulitzer Prize winning team

Eight AU students worked on project as part of the Washington Post practicum program

SOC graduate students part of Pulitzer Prize winning team

Eight recent graduates from the School of Communication’s master’s program in Journalism and Public Affairs contributed to work with the Washington Post about the January 6th riots that won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in 2022. 

The students were part of AU’s Washington Post practicum program, where they worked alongside the Washington Post’s investigations team as part of their work for the class. Led by AU professor and Investigative Reporter in Residence John Sullivan, the students, McKenzie Beard, Caroline Cliona Boyle, Heather MacNeil, Aneeta Mathur-Ashton, Vanessa Montalbano, Megan Ruggles, Nick Trombola and Carley Welch were part of over 75 people from the Washington Post who worked on the project.

The data contributed by these students was used for two of the 11 stories submitted for the prize. In January 2020, they first began collecting data on the rioters involved in the attack, which was used in one of the winning articles. In order to prepare for the primaries, data was collected by the AU students to determine which candidates supported the “Big Lie” and was eventually used in the main article on the insurrection.

Aneeta Mathur-Ashton, one of the students in the practicum program, said it was a “unique” and “comprehensive” project that took long hours of hard work.

“We had no idea how big this project was going to end up being, but we always knew it was going to be a very important project,” she said.

Another student, Vanessa Montalbano, shared her struggles working on the project, but also the great reward it turned out to be. In Montalbano’s case, it helped secure her a job at the Washington Post. Montalbano described working at the Washington Post as part of the practicum as a big responsibility.

“You have the whole newspapers’, the whole publications’ reputation on your back, and if you make one mistake, that's it, your whole career is done,” she said.

Despite the pressure and daily grind, Montalbano said that she is walking away with valuable experience and a new understanding that what she is doing matters.

Sullivan, an editor at the Washington Post and the professor in charge of the practicum program, believes strongly in the importance of what the practicum provides students.

“It's a pretty unique experience. It’s a chance to just get in there and work alongside these incredible reporters and learn,” Sullivan said.

Mathur-Ashton and Montalbano were both appreciative to AU for offering a hands-on program that helped breaking into the journalism field be easier.

“I think it's very cool that they offer this kind of program. I think with journalism, the best way to learn the ins and outs of the business is to actually get in the field and do it basically,” Mathur-Ashton said.

For Mathur-Ashton, this was an experience unlike any other.

“I grew up in a family of journalists. I grew up reading Pulitzer Prize articles. I never thought at the age of 22 that my name would be listed under the citation,” Mathur-Ashton said. 

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