The Pulitzer Prize is the highest award for journalistic excellence, and three Daily Free Press and Boston University alumni have already earned their place in the journalistic hall of fame. But, these three journalists know it’s not about them at all.
Samantha Gross was one of seven Miami Herald reporters who rushed to the scene as half of a condominium complex in Surfside, Florida collapsed on June 24, 2021.
“We all lived within blocks of the building,” Gross said. “I was the second person on the scene that morning.”
Gross, with the Staff of the Miami Herald, won a 2022 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for their “urgent yet sweeping coverage” of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex, according to the Pulitzer Prize website. Gross was the editor-in-chief of the Daily Free Press in Spring 2016, and is now a political reporter at the Boston Globe.
The team wrote stories about the victims and the victim’s families and finished 98 obituaries in total. Gross said after the collapse, she stayed in Surfside for a month reporting on day-to-day updates of search and rescue efforts, a task which Gross said was “challenging” amid a “very heavy, dark time.”
“Generally in journalism, if you’re writing a story about something sad that happened, you’re often talking to someone on the worst day of their life,” Gross said, “and in this situation, it was that, times 98. It was 98 families’ worst days of their lives.”
It was difficult to write the articles while the victims went through “the stages of grief,” she said.
“The hardest part was trying to get people to understand that it was really important for us to tell their stories,” Gross said. “This was our community, this is my neighborhood. So our community was in mourning, also.”
Upon receiving the Pulitzer, Gross said it was “exciting,” yet thought-provoking.
“It’s a really bittersweet thing, and I’ve been wrestling with that a little bit,” Gross said. “It wasn’t a big celebration of screaming and cheering,” Gross said. Instead, she said the staff was proud of their coverage despite cuts and a small team.
“Rudy Giuliani appears to sweat off hair dye during a press conference,” Sarah Silbiger, 2014 Fall photo editor at the Daily Free Press and current freelancer in Washington D.C., captioned her Pulitzer Prize winning photo.
Silbiger, a freelance photographer, was part of a team at The Washington Post that received the 2022 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service for their investigation of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol called The Attack: Before, During and After which totalled 38,000 words with photos and illustrations.
Silbiger covered an in-person press conference included in The Washington Post’s investigation with Giuliani on Dec. 11, 2020 — before the public had access to the COVID-19 vaccine.
“But honestly, when I had to go to this press conference … even the president was having press conferences outside, and they chose this teeny tiny little room that had windows that they refused to open,” she said. “I was really on edge.”
Silbiger said the event was “anxiety inducing.”
“We definitely try to put on a brave face even when we’re in truly dangerous situations,” Silbiger said.
“I arrived at the scene while the shooter was still active,” Alexandra Wimley said, a visual journalist at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
She was part of the team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that received the 2019 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting for their coverage of the 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, which killed 11 congregants.
Wimley, who was the 2015 Spring photo editor at the Daily Free Press, took the widely used photo of Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers fleeing from the Tree of Life Synagogue. The shooting was the “deadliest” attack against the Jewish community in the United States, according to the New York Times.
She said the Post-Gazette “knew the community.”
“By the end of the day, there were news organizations from all over the world there, but all of us at the Post-Gazette were local, and….a lot of reporters were from Pittsburgh,” Wimley said.
Wimley repeated Gross’s sentiments and pointed out the difficulty of winning the Pulitzer.
“The Pulitzer, the way I take it, is just saying, we did the best job we could as a newsroom to cover this tragic event and to do the people affected justice in telling the story accurately, sensitively,” Wimley said.
Still, Wimley said she had “mixed emotions.”
“It’s so difficult to celebrate anything that comes out of such a tragic situation,” Wimley said. “Anyone, it goes without saying, would give up any award to have had this not have happened.”
A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Sarah Silbiger was the current Photo Intern at the Oregonian. Silbiger was the photo intern in 2017 and is now a freelance photographer in Washington D.C. The article was updated to accurately represent Silbiger’s current position.
Very proud of the BU alumni who covered tragic stories offering respect and professional bearing amid despair and anguish. Approaching my 50th anniversary as a BU painting major, hearing the
news of these three journalists is inspiring. May
future graduates follow in pursuit of excellence they each sought and achieved.
Tree of Life massacre occurred many miles from Sandy Hook where the 10th commemorative date will arrive on 12/14/22. I hope a project close to my heart of an enormous tallit will envelope us all in love and compassion for one another. Tree of life and the Floridian collapse and losses are branded into our mourning hearts. Prayers for souls are offer once again this New Year – may their memories be for a blessing.