Journalism Alumna Part of Pulitzer Prize-Winning Team
Julia Prodis Sulek (Journalism, '86) and journalists at the East Bay Times were honored in April 2017 when the paper received the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for coverage of the Oakland Ghost Ship fire.
By Olivia Nelson
Cal Poly journalism alumna Julia Prodis Sulek has been
working in the field for more than three decades.
In the weeks following the Dec. 2, 2016, fire, which claimed 36 victims in one of the deadliest structure fires in Oakland’s history, Prodis Sulek and the Ghost Ship team received praise for their relentless coverage, their investigative work related to negligence of city building inspectors, and their focus on the lives of the victims.
The Pulitzer for breaking news is awarded “for a distinguished example of local reporting of breaking news that, as quickly as possible, captures events accurately as they occur, and, as time passes, illuminates, provides context and expands upon the initial coverage.”
Prodis Sulek said she and her colleagues were not thinking about awards during their reporting.
“When you cover disasters, you are running on pure adrenaline from start to finish. That is a time when you are truly living in the moment,” she said. “So believe me, no one was looking up saying, ‘Wow, this is Pulitzer-worthy.’”
Photo by Jose Carlos/Bay Area News Group. The Ghost Ship fire is
regarded as one of the greatest structure fires in Oakland's history.
The team at the East Bay Times excelled in their coverage
of the tragedy.
“There is that adrenaline,” she continued, “but there’s a moment with any awful, tragic story, where you’re like ‘Oh my God.’ The adrenaline pushes you forward, but throughout it, you realize the humanity of it, the loss, the tragedy.”
In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, the story also garnered awards for breaking news coverage from the American Society of News Editors and the Scripps Howard Foundation.
Since graduating from Cal Poly, Prodis Sulek has worked for the Associated Press and the San Jose Mercury News. She has covered grizzly bear maulings, plane crashes and the 1995 bombing of the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City when she worked for the Associated Press (AP) as a southwest regional writer.
Her work for the AP also led her to become a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing in 1997 for a trio of stories: one about three teenagers on a deadly journey, another about a vacuum cleaner that catches prairie dogs and one about the lives affected by a single photo taken at the Oklahoma City bombing.
“Journalism is as exciting as it ever was,” she said. “I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I can’t think of a more exciting job. It’s so important. It’s easy to get discouraged, but it’s such an important role we play for democracy. We need to hold the powerful accountable. We need to shine a light.”