She had no idea that she had won journalism’s highest honor, the Pulitzer Prize.
Mariel Padilla, a student at Columbia University School of Journalism, was in class last week when The Pulitzer winners were named. She knew that The Pulitzer awardees were being announced a couple of floors below her classroom, but when you’re typing notes, you don’t have time to think of anything else.
She was on busily typing away on her laptop when a text message popped onto her screen. It was from her editor from The Cincinnati Enquirer, where she had done an internship last summer:
“I was in shock,” the 23-year old Padilla told the Columbia Journalism Review. “My eyes just went so wide and I’m pretty sure my mouth was open. Obviously, I couldn’t make noise or anything because my professor was still talking.”
The classroom stayed quiet, but the news spread quickly around as classmates began furiously typing messages. “No one is supposed to be on their phones, but we have our laptops, so other students in class started messaging each other and finding out,” she told the CJR. It wasn’t until the class break that a classmate made the announcement.
During the Filipina American’s internship at the Enquirer, the newspaper had a special project chronicling a week of Cincinatti’s heroin crisis. As a breaking-news intern, Padilla, 23, was assigned to visit the county jail each morning during the project’s week of coverage to sort through hundreds of paper arrest slips and flag opioid mentions, according to the CJR.
On her own initiative, Padilla was able to use technology to gather the data in a useful form. She took it upon herself to create a spreadsheet for Enquirer reporters, documenting the time, location, and nature of every opioid-related event that occurred over the week 24/7. Reporters and editors took to using her spreadsheet to chronicle their reporting.
Published in September 2017, the story, “Seven Days of Heroin,” prompted a nationwide conversation about the opioid crisis, with newspapers around the country taking up the baton passed on by the Enquirer series.
“I mean, I technically am a Pulitzer winner, but I am just so humbled by the fact that they put the interns on the byline,” says Padilla, who hails from Canton, Ohio. “I feel like I still need to learn all the things that I’m learning, which I think is why my general reaction was just straight shock. I still don’t believe it.”
Time for Padilla to update her resume.