Updated at 5:52 p.m.
Medill professor John Sullivan, along with a team of four other reporters, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his work with the Philadelphia Inquirer, the award’s board announced Monday afternoon. The Pulitzer Prize is one of the highest awards in journalism.
This is Sullivan’s first Pulitzer, which came for an investigation he participated in into violence in Philadelphia public schools.
"We faced a lot of resistance from the school district when we first started reporting and they were in denial about solving the problem," Sullivan said in a phone interview. "I think that this story and several other stories that were written about the problem in the schools really woke them up, so it's very gratifying to think that this story has make [the students'] lives safer."
Sullivan continued that while the problem is "pretty intractable," he hopes the national response to the story will continue the efforts in Philadelphia's schools.
"The School Reform Commission of Philadelphia sent us an email today congratulating us on the prize and helping to make the schools safer," he said.
According to his Medill bio, Sullivan was a finalist in 2009, for other work at the Inquirer. He worked at that paper for 10 years before joining Medill’s faculty, where he now serves as the assistant director of the Medill Watchdog Initiative.
“There are few things as rewarding as the day your colleagues are given a Pulitzer,” said Professor Rick Tulsky, who serves as director of the Watchdog Initiative.
Tulsky specifically highlighted that the award was given to the Inquirer – a paper for which he himself won a Pulitzer in 1987 – which was sold earlier this month to a group of Pennsylvania corporate leaders amid questions about its editorial independence. Tulsky also noted it had netted few awards recently.
“What this does for everyone in [the Inquirer’s] newsroom is create a sense of excitement,” Tulsky said. “That is one happy place at this moment.”
Sullivan is the sixth current member of Medill’s faculty to be awarded a Pulitzer, and the fifth for work on an investigative team, according to the school. Tulsky’s 1987 Pulitzer was in his name.
“I believe we’ve never had a member of the faculty who won the Pulitzer while serving on the faculty,” said Medill’s dean, John Lavine. “It’s great because the story he won for exemplifies the very talents he has brought alive with the Watchdog Initiative,” Lavine said. “Students learn from it and the rest of us benefit from his reporting.”
“We don’t do this work for the award,” Tulsky added. “John, like I, shares the sense that we do it to expose social injustice and document flaws. We get it in making the public aware and creating a vehicle that can lead to a better society.”