Princeton-affiliated journalists Jennifer Senior ’91 and Marie-Rose Sheinerman ’23 have been awarded 2022 Pulitzer Prizes for Journalism. The Pulitzer Prize is an award for achievements in newspaper, magazine, online journalism, and literature and musical composition within the United States.
Sheinerman is the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Princetonian.
Senior won the Pulitzer Prize for Journalism in Feature Writing for her article in The Atlantic titled “What Bobby McIlvaine Left Behind.”
The subject of Senior’s piece, Bobby McIlvaine ’97, was her brother's roommate while at Princeton, as well as in 2001, when McIlvaine tragically died in the September 11 attacks on New York’s twin towers. In an interview with the ‘Prince,’ Senior explained the challenges involved with such an intimate topic.
“We were comfortable with each other. I already knew a lot of the stories — I knew Bobby,” she said. “I also just knew about the kind of pain that [his parents have] been experiencing for 20 years.”
“But it also meant that I felt hugely protective towards them and wanted to honor them and capture them fully. That's always tricky,” she continued.
Senior explained that the idea for the article was inspired by the podcast “Heavyweight,” in which host Johnathan Goldstein tries to help people resolve regrettable moments from their past.
“I thought, ‘20 years later, I wonder if Jen [Bobby’s girlfriend at the time of his death] would be interested in talking to me about [Bobby’s] diary,’” she said. “And she was, she was great.”
Upon winning the award, Jennifer explained feeling “elated.”
“I was zooming around my kitchen, I was crying, I was weeping,” she said. She also described the difficulty of reconciling the honor with the fact that McIlvaine is no longer with her.
“I didn't want to write this story. This is a story that ought never to have been written because Bobby ought to be here,” she said.
Senior noted that she appreciates its publicity nonetheless, as it encourages more people who knew McIlvaine to share their stories about him.
“Whenever there's another bump of recognition for this piece, more people come out and say that they knew him, and I can pass them along to the McIlvainess, so the McIlvainess hear directly from people,” she said.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, The New York Times published Portraits of Grief, a collection of profiles of all the victims of the tragic event, which included an entry for McIlvaine.
Twenty years later, in circumstances both vastly different and similarly tragic, The Miami Herald created a comparable compilation of the stories of the 98 victims of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South in Surfside, Fl.
This collection forms part of the coverage of the Surfside tower collapse that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting. The Pulitzer website recognized the Herald for its “urgent yet sweeping coverage of the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condominium complex, merging clear and compassionate writing with comprehensive news and accountability reporting.”
Sheinerman led the byline of one of the six articles specifically cited by the Pulitzer committee — “99 feared missing in rubble of collapsed condo in Surfside as search, vigil continue” — and contributed reporting to another, titled “After the collapse of Surfside’s Champlain tower: a day of dread, helplessness, heroism.”
On June 24, Sheinerman was two and a half weeks into her summer internship at the local government desk. That day, she woke up around 7 a.m. to a couple missed calls from her editor, Dave Wilson.
Wilson asked if she could be at the Jackson Memorial Hospital in about an hour. A tower in Surfside had collapsed, and they wanted a reporter at the hospital to talk to potential family members of those injured. Sheinerman was unable to get anyone to speak with her, but she left her contact information with several families.
By noon, Sheinerman was in Surfside, where she reported from a local community center, which had been transformed into a family reunification center, where families of victims were awaiting news.
There, Sheinerman interviewed a woman named Soriya Cohen, who was waiting for news on her missing husband and brother-in-law. Sheinerman typed up a few paragraphs on her phone. A version of those paragraphs featuring Cohen ended up becoming the lede of that day’s story on the Herald’s website and one of the six articles awarded the Pulitzer.
Sheinerman continued reporting on the tower collapse in the days and weeks that followed.
“There was a day when I was hiding in the sun [under a tent] and Wolf Blitzer was next to me, and there's a USA Today reporter to my right, and a Russian TV Channel … [it was] an entire media village,” Sheinerman recounted to the ‘Prince.’
Despite the overwhelming presence of national and international news outlets, Sheinerman said she knew the Herald’s work was equally, if not more important.
“All these people will leave in a week, in two weeks, but the Herald will still be here, because this is their community, and their responsibility to tell the story, and I think that is the biggest thing I learned … the obligations of a community paper,” Sheinerman said.
Wilson confirmed this sentiment, telling the ‘Prince,’ “It’s our town.”
Sheinerman and the Herald also worked to find angles on the tragedy that other news organizations were not approaching the story from. For example, Sheinerman and Samantha Gross, a local government reporter for the Herald at the time, worked together on a story of the first Shabbat at the local synagogue, The Shul of Bal Harbour.
“[Sheinerman] really took the initiative and went out there,” Gross said. “Marie-Rose was so crucial to the Surfside coverage and was volunteering for really long shifts and really putting in a lot of effort.”
Gross remembers multiple times when she told Sheinerman that she would have to file for overtime if she kept going. Wilson added that he was surprised that she had two more years of school.
“The work that she did was so good, so professional, that I was shocked that she was only halfway through her undergrad,” Wilson said. “We have high expectations every year for our intern class … There are stars in every class, and Marie-Rose was certainly the star of last year's.”
While Sheinerman and other reporters at the Miami Herald celebrated their Pulitzer, they were also cognizant of the tragedy and sobering circumstances behind their award-winning coverage.
Following news of the award, the staff of the Miami Herald observed 98 seconds of silence, one for each victim.
Wilson said that he was still processing the Pulitzer win “for wanting to enjoy the professional satisfaction of getting journalism’s highest honor but at the same time feeling, still, the empathy that we have and the emotions of covering that very tragic event.”
Sheinerman was in Sakrid Coffee Roasters on Nassau Street in Princeton at the time, and when the announcement was made that the Miami Herald won, she said she “screamed and ran out of Sakrid Coffee.”
“And then [I] texted a lot of the people I was close to last summer saying ‘congratulations … you’re so incredible,’ and they were responding ‘no, I didn’t win, we won, you’re so incredible’ and I was like ‘no …’ But then it kind of slowly hit me that I was a part of that,” Sheinerman said.
Director of the Program in Journalism and Professor Joe Stephens praised Sheinerman in an email to the ‘Prince.’
"Marie-Rose is a rare talent — she already has achieved so much even before graduation. She held the lead byline on a key story in the Miami Herald's prize-winning news coverage, while also contributing to its other news stories on the building collapse,” Stephens wrote. “This will not be the last time the world will be hearing from Marie-Rose."
Stephens also congratulated Sheinerman and Senior on their accomplishments.
“This has been a tremendous week for journalism at Princeton. We're wildly proud of Jennifer and Marie-Rose for achieving perhaps the highest honor in their field,” Stephens wrote. “It's a testament to their hard work, their natural talent, and their commitment to journalism as a public service.”
“They've valiantly upheld the university's unofficial motto: Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of humanity. Their work and the recognition it has received will inspire a whole new generation of students,” he added.
Miguel Gracia-Zhang is an Associate News Editor who has covered University affairs as well as local and breaking news. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @gracia-zhang.
Lia Opperman is an Assistant News Editor who often covers University affairs, student life, and local news. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Instagram @liamariaaaa, or on Twitter @oppermanlia.
Izzy Jacobson is a news staff writer and features contributor for the 'Prince.' She can be reached at email@example.com.