Wielding words

Alumna and team win Pulitzer Prize for Parkland Coverage 

By Nastasia Boulos

It’s the highest honor in journalism, the prize aspiring reporters dream of winning. For one group of journalists at the Sun Sentinel, the dream became a reality, albeit a bittersweet one, when they were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The team won for their coverage of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Among the 16 journalists who flew to New York City to receive the prize was UM alumna Lisa J. Huriash, B.S.C. '94.

For the mother of three who grew up in Broward County, the story hit close to home. "It’s still so crazy to even wrap your head around that this happened," she says. "But it was our job to put the crying aside and to get the work done." 

For ten months, they worked around the clock, hoping to find out how this tragedy could have happened in one of the safest schools in Florida. It was through many of Huriash's sources, mined during 25 years at the Sun Sentinel and a lifetime in the area, that the team uncovered failings by both school and government officials, including radio failures and delays in video surveillance. 

Huriash's commitment to journalism and to advocating for change in her community through words began early. She knew at the age of six that she wanted to be a reporter. At ten, she published her first piece: a letter to the editor of the Fort Lauderdale News (now the Sun Sentinel) advocating for harp seals. “When I’m older,” she wrote, “I would like to say to my kids ‘people really cared about these endangered species and saved them.’”

She edited middle and high school papers (and even summer camp newsletters), going against her parents’ wishes for her to become a schoolteacher. “I felt really passionate that this was my calling, that this was something that would be more than a job to me, that this was something that I believed in,” she says. 

As a student at UM, she refined her skills, serving as news & public affairs director at WVUM radio and as associate news editor for the Miami Hurricane. She wrote about recovery efforts after Hurricane Andrew, student government elections, and everything in between. 

One week after graduation, she began a full-time job at the Sun Sentinel and wrote, as one of her first assignments, a community profile about a neighborhood so dangerous that Pizza Hut refused to deliver after dark. The story led to community marches and people vowed to hold politicians accountable. 

Decades later, it's clear that neither her love for her hometown paper—nor her belief in journalism's capacity to effect change—have waned. “It’s been a tremendous, tremendous experience,” she says, recounting the many opportunities that she's had (including riding in a military helicopter, interviewing Jimmy Carter in his childhood home, and even working as an extra on the Marley & Me movie), and the impact that some of her stories have made. 

Still, the Sun Sentinel's reporting on the Parkland shooting, which led to many changes, both locally and statewide, remains the most important story that Huriash has been a part of. "We all put our lives, and put our hearts into telling this story," she says, "into making sure that the truth got out. Because truth matters, words matter, journalism matters." 

Learn more about the Sun Sentinel’s Pultizer-winning Parkland coverage here.