by Alli Inglebright
Two alumni from the College of Journalism and Mass Communications were part of Pulitzer prize winning teams. Chris Graves was part of the Cincinnati Enquirer’s “Seven Days of Heroin” team, which examined the impact of heroin on the community through immersive storytelling. Nate Kelly was part of The Arizona Republic’s “The Wall: Unknown stories, Unintended consequences” team, which was a special report from 2017 looking at President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall.
Graves worked with 60 other journalists to show what heroin in the Cincinnati community looks like. Her role as a reporter on the project required her to spend time in various locations and connect with individuals affected by heroin.
“I spent a day with a longtime heroin-addicted mother who was celebrating her son's birthday in a sterile office environment on a supervised visit,” Graves said. “Her children had been taken away from her and placed in foster care. I also spent about 3-4 hours outside a local hospital emergency room waiting to see if anyone would bring an overdose victim to be dropped off.”
During the last 6 hours of the project, Graves was inside the Hamilton County jail waiting for the intake of those booked on drug charges.
The project showed many facets of the issue and brings people front and center with the heroin epidemic in their community, Graves said.
“[The project’s] beauty, I have always thought, was in the starkness of the writing, making sure every word mattered and that, despite the heft of the topic, was told with humanity and empathy,” Graves said. “We hoped that folks would see that this was a community issue that impacted nearly all of us.”
Upon graduating from the CoJMC in 1987, Graves promised former journalism professor Bud Pagel that she would win a Pulitzer award. While she never thought she would deliver on that promise, she said she was grateful to have the opportunity to work on this story.
“The joy to me, honestly, is in the pursuit of the work and in the telling of the story,” Graves said.
Graves is currently the digital managing editor at Minnesota Public Radio News.
Kelly worked with 30 other journalists in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas, all part of the USA Today Network, to explore President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall. The project used virtual reality, mini-documentaries, a feature-length documentary, podcasts and laser imaging radar to examine what the wall would look like, who it would affect and what it would cost.
As the video content strategist for The Republic, Kelly was in charge of dispatching photojournalists across the border.
“I focused on building out their audio/video equipment and making sure they had everything they needed to do their best work,” Kelly said. “I also oversaw logistics and quality control for the podcast series.”
When looking at the impact, potential cost and promises made by President Trump it could be argued that this is the biggest story in the country, Kelly said. The team took great efforts to tell a complete story of the border wall.
“We spoke to human smugglers, families who had lost loved ones trying to cross, vigilantes who patrol the border, ranchers who live on the border, wildlife preservationists, Customs and Border Protection and more,” Kelly said. “It is the most comprehensive reporting ever done on the border between the United States and Mexico.”
The US Today Network has been seeking a Pulitzer for 35 years and winning this award is validation for their hard work, Kelly said.
“This project was possible because our nation-wide leadership was able to get together and plan strategically to dispatch journalistic resources from all over the country,” Kelly said. “We leaned on each other and worked together as a network to accomplish a monumental task.”
Kelly graduated from the CoJMC in 2010.