By Tom Ballard
Growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y., alumnus James Queally (’09) knew that he wanted to be a journalist, but he never saw himself playing a role in winning a Pulitzer Prize.
But that was exactly what happened when the 28-year-old journalist found out on Monday, April 18, that he and the staff of the Los Angeles Times were being awarded the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news coverage. The staff won the honor for the newspaper’s coverage of the San Bernardino shootings that took place in San Bernardino, Calif., on Wednesday, Dec. 2. The attack resulted in 22 people injured and 16 people dead, including both suspects, according to the LA Times.
“I was kind of muted, quite frankly,” said Queally, a staff writer for the Times who typically writes about crime-related events. “(It didn’t sink in until) my managing editor walked up to me, gave me a big hug and said, ‘Thanks for keeping us all together.’”
Queally, who said that he is typically out in the field reporting on stories, said that he spent most of his time working on the story at his desk, checking information coming in from reporters, local authorities and the federal government.
According to Queally, he worked around the clock trying to piece together information as it was coming in while also looking into new leads that were constantly changing.
Queally said that when the story first broke, there was initial confusion about whether or not the shooting actually took place and what kind of shooting it had been.
Despite winning one of the most prestigious awards in journalism, Queally was humble and said that the LA Times worked as a team to report on the story.
“I’m just a part of it,” Queally said. “I’m trying to keep it in perspective.”
The Pulitzer Prize is named after famed journalist and publisher Joseph Pulitzer and is awarded to writers of exceptional journalism since 1917. In addition to journalism, the Pulitzer Prize Board also gives out awards in other areas, such as literature, dramas and music, according to the Prize’s Website.
The LA Times edged out the Baltimore Sun’s coverage of the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, a black man, and the riots about possible police brutality that ignited in the city afterward, as well as the Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., for its coverage of the shooting of Walter Scott, a black man, by a police officer, who has been indicted for murder.
Queally cites the wider reach of the San Bernardino shooting as the reason for why he thinks the paper ultimately won.
“The (Sun and Post and Courier)… all did excellent work,” Queally said. “Our story was really taking place in all different arenas… we had a wider scope of reporting, (but)… I don’t think that we did superior reporting.”
Donna Shaw, associate professor and coordinator of the Journalism and Professional Writing Program, said that she remembers Queally, despite him having graduated nearly seven years ago.
“He was brash and strong-willed,” Shaw said. “But he understood without anybody telling him that the way to be a good journalist wasn’t just to go to class, but to actually be a journalist.”
In addition to serving as a sports and arts & entertainment editor for The Signal for most of his college career, Queally also served internships at multiple papers, including the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Times of Trenton and the Star Ledger. After graduating, Queally was hired by the Star Ledger, where he worked in different positions, including as statewide law enforcement reporter, for five years until 2014.
During his time at the College, Queally said he was constantly motivated to work hard by the faculty to become a better reporter.
“Donna (Shaw) is excellent,” Queally said. “She was an incredible reporter… it was really valuable to have someone like her.”
Queally encouraged current journalism students to work hard in order to make it easier to secure a job once they graduate.
“I know it’s tough to be (a journalism) major right now,” Queally said. “But if you grind and do all the jobs that nobody wants to do, you will be successful… just work, don’t say ‘no’ to anything.”
Shaw said that she is proud of what Queally has been able to accomplish and hopes that other journalism students can learn from the steps that Queally has taken.
“I hope (what current journalism students) take away is not settling for just doing your homework. It’s not enough to just come to class and do your assignments,” Shaw said. “That’s not just true for journalism, that’s true (for all majors). If you want to be really good at what you do, you have to work at it and that was what he did.”