By Chelsea Crane
Eileen Sullivan, a 1999 Arts and Sciences Honors graduate from the University, is now an expert journalist that covers counterterrorism, and homegrown terrorism for the Associated Press. Sullivan, along with three of her colleagues, were named winners of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. The winning series focused on the New York Police Department’s secret operations that have been infiltrating and spying on Muslim communities of New York since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Sullivan received an English degree from the University and was also a member of the Villanovan staff during her time on campus. Sullivan hails from Alexandria, Va. and started her journalism career with Courier-Post in Cherry Hill, N.J. Previously covering stories released by the Department of Homeland Security, Sullivan now lives on Capitol Hill where she is based with the Associated Press and focuses on domestic radicalization.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning series led Sullivan to the University on Monday to discuss her series and educate students on interviewing and reporting tactics.
“Be prepared, know the subject,” Sullivan says about how journalists should go into an interview. “Stand your ground, and be honest and upfront about what you’re doing.”
Sullivan, having extensive interview experience, says you should prepare for an interview as you would prepare for an exam. Understanding your subject and being able to explain it to somebody else is crucial as well.
The best thing to have and to know is the facts, says Sullivan. No one should be able to challenge your work and confirm your information and sources over and over again.
Even though most journalism is objective, Sullivan says to, “believe in what you’re saying.” One of the most important things is to sell people on the importance of what you are telling them. It is vital to give people a reason to keep reading your story.
While Sullivan has covered many topics during her journalism career, her most recent and important coverage deals with the sensitive topics surrounding the surveillance of Muslim communities since 2001.
“It’s a very emotional story,” Sullivan says.
The story was covered mostly in the shadows, with little national knowledge of the topic.
America may not understand the extent to which the NYPD spied on these communities.
By implanting undercover agents into these interracial, mostly Muslim communities, there was constant surveillance placed on everyday immigrants with nationalities that were of interest to the NYPD.
“It’s important to inform people in this country,” Sullivan says.
While both the lifestyle and religion of the Muslim community may be unfamiliar, this award-winning series brings serious light to something that has been hanging over this community’s heads since 2001.
Covering sensitive topics is something that Sullivan has become an expert on since 9/11. Going into these topics with respect is key in making the person you are interviewing feel comfortable.
“Don’t cry with them,” Sullivan says. She encourages letting the people affected by these sensitive topics talk about their tragedy, and get their story out there.
On the impact, Sullivan hopes her stories take on readers, she would like to get people thinking about the subject and what it means to them.
“It felt like we were writing for the history books,” Sullivan says of her time spent on the series. The national coverage of the series was important in dissecting the NYPD as a representation of America.
“We report the facts so the public can come to their own conclusions,” Sullivan says. This story took people certainly by surprise with reactions such as, “This is happening in America?” That is what journalism is all about.
Sullivan has encountered many different reporting instances whether it is a sensitive topic or one that is informative. When thinking about a serious interview she has to conduct, Sullivan convinces herself to “Just do it.” She encourages future journalists to take on this task as well.
“We are, as journalists, objective, but we decide what readers need to know as well,” Sullivan says. Simply by doing their jobs, the 2012 Pulitzer Prize winners, especially Sullivan, have gotten many people thinking about what they really believe in.