Star Tribune reporter Jeremy Olson ’95 has become the first-known graduate of St. Thomas to win the Pulitzer Prize. Olson, along with fellow Star Tribune reporters Brad Schrade and Glenn Howatt, earned journalism’s highest honor for a series of stories about an increase in infant deaths at poorly regulated in-home daycare centers.
The news came at 2 p.m. Monday, April 15. Olson heard a few pockets of applause from different corners of the Star Tribune newsroom, but did not immediately realize what was happening. “It wasn’t even on my radar,” he said. When he found out that he and his peers had won, he was surprised. “I’ve entered things before and fallen short. It’s one of those things where you send things in and you never know,” he said.
When Olson arrived at St. Thomas as a student in the early 1990s, he knew he wanted to be a newspaper reporter. He learned early that he was missing a critical skill. “I realized I wasn’t that good of a writer,” he said. “My classes helped me understand what I needed to do to write with clarity.”
It was a skill he honed successfully – he eventually became the editor of The Aquin (the student-run newspaper and forerunner of TommieMedia.com).
Dave Nimmer, who was the adviser to The Aquin during Olson’s tenure, cannot recall a harder-working student. “This kid accepted more responsibility than any other I had seen,” he said. “He was born to do this.” On Olson’s earning a Pulitzer, Nimmer said, “You could have predicted it.”
Communication and Journalism professor Mark Neuzil recalls Olson’s time as a St. Thomas student. “Jeremy was a bright, hard-working and inquisitive student at St. Thomas, and his many accomplishments since have not surprised his teachers,” he said. “The Pulitzer, however, rocked us back a little bit. He’ll be an inspiration for all the students that followed, for sure.”
Olson and his colleagues celebrated carefully given the subject matter of their award-winning series. “It’s important to keep things in perspective,” he said. “Our success is based on the stories of children who died and families who are grieving.” Olson mentioned that he has reached out to the families he worked with to thank them for sharing their stories.
Star Tribune editor Nancy Barnes recognized the impact of the series, saying in a Star Tribune story, “It matters to me that this was for journalism that makes a difference.” This is and the editorial cartoon award earned by Steve Sack are the first Pulitzers for the paper since 1990.
Among the winners were some of the most recognized names in news, including the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. That reporters from the Star Tribune were listed among those publications was not surprising to Olson. “I’ve always felt like local reporters in this town can compete with the big boys,” he said. “Reporters here have always been capable of top-quality journalism.”
Read more about Olson and his colleagues at StarTribune.com.