Pulitzer Prize power couple speaks on perspective

 

Reporting by Katarina Delgado and JD Allen.
Photos by Basil John.

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The Stony Brook School of Journalism hosted the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters Bill Dedman and Pam Belluck at this semester’s second “My Life As” series lecture on Tuesday, Oct. 20. The series invites professionals to advise students on making the most of their journalism careers, followed by questions from university professors, students and the public about the careers of journalists.

The two reporters said that journalists need to constantly change their perspective to notice the real stories to cover. In some cases, the change of perspective might come in the form of inspiration from a spouse – the two are married.

BPJ_2417“I want to encourage you to think about where you are sitting and where you could sit differently while you’re working on those stories,” Dedman said. “Maybe it’s in finding the most interesting person to sit with.”

They met in Atlanta in the fall of 1987. The two were then working at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution – she was a young reporter who landed her first job in the states after stringing stories overseas, he was an experienced investigative reporter – when they both leaped over the fence of the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary to get a better look at a prison riot.

“We were interrogated together by the FBI for a while and then they let us go,” Dedman said. “That was our first date.”

They emerged with a different outlook on the story. Now married for 22 years, with two teenage daughters, they try to support each other in a business they both love.

BPJ_2482“The only obstacles I have had are the ones I put out in front of myself,” Belluck said. “This business allows for you to make your own opportunities.”

Belluck, a New York Times science reporter, received the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on the Ebola outbreak. She wrote “Island Practice,” a book about a Nantucket doctor, now optioned for a television series.

“Journalism is about telling the reader what they don’t know yet,” Belluck said. “And with science writing, it’s always the case.”

Her husband, an investigative reporter for Newsday, was awarded his Pulitzer in 1989 for a Journal-Constitution series on racial discrimination by bank and mortgage lenders. His best-selling book “Empty Mansions” is being developed for a feature film.

Belluck has empathy for her sources and is able to write an article without being disliked by them at the end of it all, something Dedman said he envies about her. Belluck, on the other hand, said she is jealous of Dedman’s ability to be absolutely sure of what he is doing and that it is important.

Dedman, with his Tennessee twang, is a reporter who likes to “dive deep into a topic,” Belluck said. Belluck, with her Long Island drawl, likes to juggle many assignments at once — writing more than 200 front page stories for The New York Times.

“One day past her due date and she got in her car, rode down to Rhode Island and covered a fire and had a story on the front page and delayed the birth until the 23rd,” Dedman said.

Growing a family and being successful in your career is not an easy task.  Belluck said that it is helpful to have a husband who truly gets it: the busy schedule and tight deadlines. For some journalism students, this was an eye opener.

”How do you have a family when you are an investigative journalist correspondent traveling all around the world on a moment’s notice,” said Jill Ryan, a freshman journalism major,  “and the fact that they’ve been married for 20 some years, and have two teenage daughters, gives me hope that even though I want to pursue journalism I can still have a family.”