By Jacqueline Fellows
NINE UNIVERSITY of North Texas alumni are Pulitzer Prize winners. All but one is a journalist.
Larry McMurtry, who earned an English degree in 1958, won over readers and Pulitzer Prize jurors with his depiction of Texas in the 1870s in his novel, Lonesome Dove. It’s hard to compete with that level of fame, but the journalists from UNT’s hallowed halls weren’t looking for notoriety. They were looking for good stories.
The prize-winning articles that alumni crafted over the decades document cities struggling with race relations, violence against women across the globe and dubious U.S. Marine Corps recruiting practices. These were the hard stories: They were hard to report; they were hard to write; they were hard to witness.
Nearly every Pulitzer Prize winner from UNT is no longer a full-time journalist. Howard Swindle, a 1968 graduate, died in 2004. He helped lead The Dallas Morning News to three Pulitzer Prizes as an editor.
Only one UNT alum, Leona Allen, still works at a newspaper. Allen, who earned a journalism degree in 1986, is an editorial board member at The Dallas Morning News. She was part of the Akron Beacon Journal reporting team that won a Pulitzer Prize for public service in 1994.
It’s not unusual to find Pulitzer Prize winners in places other than newsrooms. Two 2015 winners had already left journalism when their awards were announced last year.
Other alumni, such as Dan Malone, are college professors. Malone won the Pulitzer for investigative reporting with Lorraine Adams in 1992 for their series on police abuses for The Dallas Morning News. Malone graduated from UNT in 2006 and is now an assistant professor of journalism at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas.
Here’s a deeper look at five UNT alumni who’ve earned journalism’s highest honor.
By the time Larry McMurtry won a Pulitzer Prize in 1986 for Lonesome Dove, his reputation as a talented writer had already been recognized and celebrated in Hollywood. Three of his novels had been turned into Academy Award-winning films: Hud, which was based on Horseman, Pass By, his 1961 novel, The Last Picture Show and Terms of Endearment. Perhaps that’s why his Pulitzer isn’t a career highlight.
“It’s a journalism prize, and I’ve always felt it was kind of strange to include fiction, poetry, etc.,” McMurtry says. “The others are far, far harder to win.”
In 2006, McMurtry won an Oscar for adapted screenplay for Brokeback Mountain, an award he shares with co-writer Diana Ossana. In 2014, he was awarded a National Humanities Medal by President Barack Obama.
McMurtry’s affinity for the West goes beyond characters and set tings. He splits his time between Tucson, Ariz., where it is “almost always sunny,” and Archer City, Texas, his hometown. He owns a book store there called Booked Up. He personally purchased at least 150,000 titles, but don’t expect to find him conducting writers’ workshops or local talks when he is there.
“I don’t want Archer City to become a seminar town,” he says.
Joe Murray attended UNT in the early 1960s and never graduated, but didn’t let that stand in his way of newspaper reporting. He worked his way up the ranks at his hometown newspaper in Lufkin, Texas, from summer intern in 1960 to editor-in-chief and publisher by the late 1970s.
Retired since 2001, Murray now travels and dotes on his grandchildren.
“I’ve long since written myself out,” he says.
Murray was editor-in-chief of the Lufkin Daily News when the small-town daily paper won its gold medal in public service from the Pulitzer Prize committee in 1977 for its investigation into U.S. Marine Corps training camp practices.
Murray and reporter, Ken Herman, wrote a series about the death of 20-year old U.S. Marine Lynn “Bubba” McClure, a hometown boy who died from fatal blows during a training exercise at a Marine Corps base in San Diego. Murray and Herman uncovered failures that led to Congressional hearings and a court martial for one solider implicated in McClure’s death. The soldier was acquitted, but recruitment standards were tightened because of the News’ coverage.
Murray left the paper in 1989. He then became a senior writer for Cox Newspapers, now known as Cox Media Group, and retired in 2001.
Murray says after the paper won its Pulitzer, he became a zealous fact-checker because so many follow-up stories contained errors. “I checked, double checked and redouble checked what came out of my typewriter,” he says. “Not to my surprise, I always found errors I had overlooked.”
When she isn’t writing, Gayle Reaves is teaching.
Reaves, who was part of The Dallas Morning News team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for international reporting, is an adjunct journalism professor at UNT. She knows the program well because she earned a master’s degree in journalism from the school in 2015.
Reaves has been a fixture in Texas journalism for more than four decades, mostly in Dallas and Fort Worth. She spent 13 years as an editor and reporter at The Dallas Morning News, and 14 years as editor-in-chief of Fort Worth Weekly. She also writes poetry and is co-authoring a nonfiction book on the use of attachment science in child placement decisions called, Dividing the Baby.
Reaves’ reporting helped The Dallas Morning News win a Pulitzer for its 14-part series, “Violence Against Women: A Question of Human Rights.” Reaves recounted abuses that women suffered in faraway places such as Thailand and closer to home in Dallas (read more on p. 32).
She says that these days, she gives her students the same advice she received as a young journalist in the 1970s.
“From the first day, start a ‘Go to Hell Fund,’ so that if they’re faced with an employer who insists they do something unethical, they are in position to quit and go find a new job.”
Kerry Gunnels’ career path almost mirrors Reaves’.
Gunnels and Reaves were both on 1994 Dallas Morning News Pulitzer Prize-winning team, and he works at UNT.
But Gunnels doesn’t teach. Instead, his role is senior director of media content at UNT’s Health Science Center, an academic medical center in Fort Worth.
Gunnels earned his bachelor’s degree from UNT in 1973, studying under C.E. “Pop” Shuford, the school’s first journalism department chair. Gunnels spent 25 years at The Dallas Morning News, as an editor for the international desk and supervisor for the city and county government beats.
“I couldn’t have gotten a better foundation for that career than the one I received at UNT studying under Shuford, Keith Shelton and others,” Gunnels says.
He helped edit the investigative series on violence against women, which remains a high point for Gunnels’ career.
“Everyone understood the importance of what we were doing in documenting — for the first time in a systematic and methodical way the shameful treatment of women at the hands of traditional male-dominated societies across the globe,” Gunnels says. “No one wanted to let the team, or the women about whom we were writing, down.”
As an editorial page editor for 30 years at the Bradenton Herald, David Klement estimates he wrote about 11,000 editorials.
The constant demand for a cogent response to complex issues prepared him for his current role as executive director of the Institute of Strategic Policy Solutions at St. Petersburg College, an academic think-tank in Florida.
“Nothing is as challenging as the work I did as an editorial page editor,” Klement says. Klement, who retired from the Herald in 2007, graduated from UNT in 1962. He was part of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team just six years later at the Detroit Free Press for the newspaper’s coverage of the 1967 Detroit riots. Because he was so young and new, Klement says winning a Pulitzer was not the highlight of his career.
“I was present at the beginning of the Mariel boatlift of 1980 when Fidel Castro opened jails and insane asylums,” Klement says. “I was one of two journalists at the docks in Key West when the boats landed.”
After retiring from the newspaper business in 2007, Klement was appointed to the Florida Public Service Commission in 2009. He voted against the largest rate increase in state history and saw the rough side of politics. It was enough to deter him from seeking public office.
Klement spent 44 years as a journalist, retiring the job title, but not the job skills.
“When there is any writing needed, I readily accept it,” he says. “I’m able to sum up complex projects in a page or two.”
It’s been more than 20 years since a UNT alumni won a Pulitzer Prize, but three were finalists in 2016: Kalani Gordon, Melissa Boughton and Chip Somodevilla.
Gordon and Boughton were both on teams named finalists for breaking news, but at different newspapers. Boughton is a reporter at the Post and Courier, which was recognized for exposing a police officer’s role in the death of Walter Scott, an unarmed African-American man who was killed during a traffic stop. The recognition is bittersweet. “While it’s nice to be praised for hard work, we can’t forget that someone died and a community was shaken to its core,” Boughton says.
Gordon, breaking news editor for the Baltimore Sun, was also part of a team that covered the death of an African-American man with police involvement: Freddie Gray, who died after he was arrested.
Somodevilla, a Getty photographer, was part of a team that covered the Baltimore riots that followed Gray’s death. Somodevilla and three other Getty photographers were named finalists in the breaking news photography category.