Texas State Faces: Pulitzer Prize winners

Texas State journalists help bring
Pulitzer honors to Seattle Times

David Birdwell, on a manual typewriter, from the 1974 Pedagog yearbook

Joe Ruiz

Two former Texas State journalism students were intimately involved in the Pulitzer Prize won by the Seattle Times earlier this month, giving the university what is believed to be its first winners of the prestigious award.

David Birdwell, who graduated in 1975, and Joe Ruiz, who attended Texas State from 1998-99 and 2004-06, were part of the coverage of the shooting deaths of four Lakewood, Wash., police officers last year and the manhunt for the suspect.

Birdwell, who has been at the Times since 1999, is the newspaper’s national/foreign editor, but he was working as the Page 1A editor Nov. 29-30, 2009, when events unfolded in the Seattle suburb. He wound up serving as one of the lead editors of the paper’s printed stories, and he also led their design and placement, and wrote or approved all the headlines.

Ruiz is an associate producer for news with the newspaper’s Web site, seattletimes.com, and kept the site updated as events unfolded.

“The Pulitzer is the pinnacle of the journalism profession,” says Kym Fox, head of the journalism sequence in the Texas State School of Journalism and Mass Communication. “It’s the prize every journalist wants to win, even if they tell you otherwise.”

As far as can be determined, the award — which goes to the entire newsroom in the breaking news category — is the first for former Texas State students.

“To win in the breaking news category speaks to the strength of the team at the Seattle Times,” Fox says. “When something like the shooting of multiple police officers happens in a town, it’s the newspaper that has the journalistic resources to fully inform the community. This is a testament to what newspapers do.”

Ruiz awoke to the sound of Twitter updates the day the story broke and quickly headed to the Times’ offices.

“On the Sunday morning of the shootings, I was the first person in the newsroom updating the Web site,” he says. He continued to find and update stories throughout the day, and established ways to find and coordinate information on Twitter.

“The following days, I either worked on the homepage making sure the latest information was posted, or I was writing brief, continuous Web updates to have the latest information on the page.”

Fox noted that the duo came from very different eras at the university.

“It’s interesting that the Texas State connection to this comes in the form of David, who is a veteran journalist, graduating from the university when our program was much smaller and Joe, a journalist with only a few years experience, who attended the university recently,” she says. “A lot has changed between the years these two walked the halls of Old Main, but good journalism is good journalism. We’re really proud of their work.”

Ruiz spoke fondly of his time at Texas State, when the native of San Antonio worked for both the University Star and Bobcat Update, a student-produced newscast.

“I wouldn’t be the person I am today or have any chance at becoming the person I want to be without the Texas State community,” says Ruiz, who worked for the Web site of San Antonio television KSAT before taking the job in Seattle.

“I can’t thank those people enough who have kept me as part of the community, and I’m proud to tell people I studied at the School of Journalism at Texas State.”

Birdwell was on newsroom staffs at the Austin American-Statesman and Houston Post, as well as papers in Colorado, California and Alaska, following his graduation in December 1975.

“The best thing . . . is that the department was small enough at the time that I was able to gain a lot of experience,” he says. “I was assistant sports editor (of the University Star) my first semester, moving up the chain to sports editor, executive news editor, managing editor and finally editor.”

The Pulitzer Prize is the eighth for the Seattle Times and the first for the Times since 1997. The murders of the policemen shocked the nation, and the ensuing manhunt was the largest fugitive search in Washington state history. The Times covered the story with dozens of reporters, photographers, editors and online producers, according to the newspaper.

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