Pulitzer Prize winner Lane DeGregory spoke to students at the University of South Florida Monday about her journey through journalism, and gave advice to future professionals, such as talking to someone before writing your story, even if it’s your dog.
In 2009, DeGregory’s article “Girl in the Window,” a story about a feral child who was rescued and adopted, won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing and immediately made a big impact on her life. After the article’s first day on the Tampa Bay Times website, it crashed because of so many views. Through her signature storytelling technique, DeGregory hooked readers and shared the moving tale.
“When I started reporting that story, it was going to be a Mother’s Day story,” DeGregory said. “It was going to be like a Sunday centerpiece story for Mother’s Day and it was a good story, but I had no idea how big it would get.”
While most news stories are cut and dry, DeGregory’s genre of writing provides readers with one person to follow through a journey. She covers an event by following one person’s experience and turning it into a narrative that evokes emotion from her audience.
“Anytime I see her byline in the paper, that’s the first thing I read,” said Wendy Whitt, Writing for Mass Media instructor at USF.
DeGregory’s writing style has expanded the typical breaking news event into a heartfelt chronicle that makes the reader feel something, while still providing relevant information.
“I never really thought of journalism as human interest,” said USF student Caylie Rowe, 19.
DeGregory, who has more than 25 years of experience, shared advice from her life in journalism, like not getting lost in your notes when trying to write a story. She also shared her technique of talking to someone about your article before writing it. DeGregory especially stressed the importance of internships.
“Work in your field,” she said. “Even if it’s unpaid, it’s going to help launch you into that career, and into a job that’s going to get you a salary.”
DeGregory chose her college, University of Virginia, not because it had a great journalism program, but because of the daily student-run newspaper that was ranked in the top 10 of the country. Although students should strive to get good grades, DeGregory explains that her employers always wanted to see experience in the field.
Through all her hard work and passion, DeGregory has fulfilled her childhood dream.
“Since I was 5 years old, the only thing I ever wanted to be was a journalist,” she said.
As a young child growing up in Washington, D.C., DeGregory fell in love with journalism during the Watergate scandal. Every morning her father would read the Washington Post to her and her sister while they ate breakfast.
“I thought, ‘Oh my God, that is the coolest thing in the world, these two young reporters taking down the president of the United States,’” said DeGregory.
DeGregory would love to have a story in The New Yorker and check that item off her bucket list. In the meantime, she is working on a book proposal, which she has never done before. The book will be about one of her articles on Zeke, the dog who saved his owner on several occasions.
“Somebody cares, and if you can find that person that cares, and you kind of sort of get into their head or inhabit their body, and get a little bit of their backstory about why they care, then you’re going to make readers care, and you’re going to make them connect,” said DeGregory.