Good reporters want to contribute to big stories, and this disaster was the worst loss of life from a landslide in the history of the continental United States.
But Bernton was at Marquette – nearly 1,700 miles from Seattle – midway through his stint with the O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism. One of three 2013-14 O’Brien Fellows, he was reporting and researching a yearlong project with students about the struggle to reduce carbon emissions in China and the United States.
Marquette quickly allowed him to return his focus to Washington state for a few days, to help his colleagues tell the stories of those caught in the landslide and what unfolded near the small town of Oso. Instead of rushing back to Seattle, however, Bernton initially stayed in Milwaukee and began digging into documents obtained online that detailed the logging history above the slope. He then wrote a memorandum to colleagues who were beginning to explore the same issue. Still, there was plenty more digging to do, and Bernton needed to be part of it.
“I still couldn’t let go of the story, and wrestled with what I should do,” Bernton said of his decision to return to the newsroom to help with the coverage. “As much as I was committed to seeing through the O’Brien Fellowship, I felt I needed to be back in Washington, at least for a while, to assist in a newsroom-wide effort to report on the landslide.”
The Times’ efforts were rewarded this week when the newsroom earned the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News.
Learn more Bernton's mudslide reporting experience and how Marquette helped him help his newsroom.