Luther College graduate Erin Alberty on Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting team


Erin Alberty graduated from Luther College in 2001 with an English degree. This week her employer, The Salt Lake Tribune, Utah’s largest daily newspaper, won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting for a yearlong team project that increased awareness of sexual assault and campus safety and spurred reforms at Brigham Young University and Utah State University. Alberty, a public safety reporter at the time, was included on seven of the bylines among the 10 stories submitted to the Pulitzer contest. Three of those stories had her byline alone.

Pulitzer judges say the newspaper’s staff earned the prize "for a string of vivid reports revealing the perverse, punitive and cruel treatment given to sexual-assault victims at Brigham Young University, one of Utah’s more powerful institutions." Alberty says she had been looking into the possibility that BYU’s honor code could deter crime reporting. The code had strict rules on drinking, dress, premarital sex and other behaviors, which Alberty suspected prevented sexual assault victims from reporting attacks and sometimes revictimized them. But she couldn’t find people willing to talk.

The story suddenly "grew legs," she says, almost a year before it won the Pulitzer Prize on April 10, 2017. The first article in the series ran on April 13, 2016. "The week before that, there was a rape awareness forum on campus and a student got up and said that she had been assaulted and that as a result of making the report she was disciplined by the school," Alberty says. After that, other victims started speaking up. Within three days Alberty did 12 interviews with current and former BYU students who reported being raped while attending school there.

The Tribune’s series also led to criminal rape charges against a former Utah State University football star. As a result of the project, USU adjusted its crime reporting system and BYU announced plans for a series of reforms, including an amnesty clause to shield students from honor code penalties when reporting sexual assault.

Having her work recognized through a Pulitzer is huge honor, Alberty says, but she and her colleagues weren’t thinking about winning a prize while working on the series. "I saw this as a potentially serious public safety issue, as something that would be important for the Provo community, where BYU is located, and for sexual assault victims in other places," she explains.

Alberty says that while this national recognition is validating for the Tribune's efforts, "The people who participated in this story went through a lot, not just before but as a result of participating in the stories. Since the Pulitzer announcement, I've heard from so many of them, and they've all said that they were happy about it, that they were glad our profession recognized these stories as important."

Alberty has done a little of everything throughout her journalism career. She began by selling classified ads for one summer and doing a newsroom internship the following summer at her hometown paper, The Ottumwa (Iowa) Courier. She also did a journalism internship at Luther with longtime public relations director Jerry Johnson and held a work-study position in that office as well. After graduating from Luther, she spent nearly two years teaching English in China. Her first full-time reporting position was at The Houghton (Mich.) Daily Mining Gazette, whose small staff size also necessitated occasionally delivering papers and shoveling snow out of the paper's satellite dish. She then moved on to The Saginaw (Mich.) News and then to The Salt Lake Tribune, where she has been reporting for ten years. Alberty recently switched beats from crime reporting to outdoor recreation, a prime topic in her beautiful state.

A national liberal arts college with an enrollment of 2,150, Luther offers an academic curriculum that leads to the Bachelor of Arts degree in more than 60 majors and pre-professional programs. For more information about Luther visit the college's website: http://luther.edu.

 

Erin Alberty