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The Daily Tar Heel

Two DTH graduates win Pulitzer Prizes

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Emily Steel and Peter Wallsten may not be the first Daily Tar Heel alumni to win a Pulitzer Prize, but they do join the ranks of journalism greats that have won the prestigious award. 

Emily Steel of the New York Times and Peter Wallsten from The Washington Post both played instrumental roles in the respective prizes awarded to their newsrooms for Public Service and National Reporting. 

Steel and Wallsten actually overlapped at The Wall Street Journal over ten years ago and worked together on a story about privacy. Wallsten saw Steel at the Goldsmith Awards in March.

“She’s an amazing reporter,” Wallsten said. 

Today marks the one-year anniversary of Bill O’Reilly’s termination from Fox News.

On Monday, the New York Times was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for Steel’s and Michael Schmidt’s in-depth reporting on O’Reilly. 

The sexual assault allegations against O’Reilly and subsequent settlements cost the parent company, 21st Century Fox, nearly $13 million. UNC alum and former DTH-er, Emily Steel, helped uncover Cable News’s biggest secret with the help of her colleague, Michael Schmidt. Since the first article, published on April 1, 2017, Steel’s team at the Times has released a string of stories on O’Reilly. 

“It was a lot,” Steel said. “It could be pretty overwhelming and I got heartsick listening to these stories … I remember calling my mom and just breaking down in tears and she was like, 'Emily you’re doing this reporting for a reason and it’s important.'”

In August 2016, Steel was assigned to look closer at the 2004 lawsuit against O’Reilly by Andrea Mackris. 

“About a month into our reporting, we found that it wasn’t just about this one woman,” Steel said. “Over the next several months we kept reporting and talked to as many people as we could and get our hands on documents. I even showed up at a woman’s Pilates class.”

After the Times published the initial articles, other sections of the paper began to report on O’Reilly, and, later that fall, the first Harvey Weinstein article was published. The Weinstein reporting also earned a Pulitzer Prize, in addition to the one awarded to Schmidt and Steel.

“I was so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude,” Steel said. “I couldn’t sleep for a couple of days, I was so thrilled. The thing I think is so incredible is that it really shows the importance of listening to women and listening to these stories.”

Steel took time out of her day on Monday to deliver a speech to the newsroom, but she has no more breaks scheduled on her agenda. 

“I’m going to make some calls and keep reporting,” Steel said. “I’m going to see what other stories there are and continue to give a voice to those that have been violenced.” 

Further down the East Coast, DTH and UNC alum Peter Wallsten is the Senior Politics Editor at the Washington Post. From his editor position in Chapel Hill, Wallsten has since moved on to Capitol Hill, where he edited the Pulitzer Prize-winning articles about the Russian interference in the Trump campaign.

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“We knew that this was a big story and we knew that over the past couple of years we’ve been ahead on it,” Wallsten said. “There had been a pretty stiff competition with the New York Times, so we didn’t know whether we would win it, alone or with the Times.”

The Post and Times were jointly awarded this prize for their “deeply sourced, relentlessly reported coverage in the public interest that dramatically furthered the nation’s understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.” These articles covered topics from the Trump campaign’s involvement with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, to Michael Flynn and James Comey and more. 

“There’s been so much great coverage on the Russian front in our paper, in the New York Times, and in other places too,” Wallsten said. “It’s really, more than anything, a huge honor to have our work recognized on that level. Regardless of the outcome, we felt very proud and we felt it has had a huge impact on the public’s understanding of what happened and on the future of the country.”

Like Steel, Wallsten has a brick on the gas pedal.

“We’re still aggressively reporting on the Russia investigation, on other angles related to the Russia story,” Wallsten said. “We have a large and growing team and we’re not letting up.”