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Winning the Pulitzer Prize

Keven Ann Willey

Vice President and Editorial Page Editor, Dallas Morning News

1980 BS in Journalism

Keven Ann Willey has always known how to tell a good story.

"When I was nine years old, I wrote a fiction piece about an eleven-and-a-half-inch elephant named Ashmore," she says.

Her writing skills and creativity may have been instantly apparent, but over the years the subject matter has become decidedly more serious. As an undergraduate at Northern Arizona University, Willey answered the call to journalism and is now the vice president and editorial page editor at the Dallas Morning News. She has spent the past three years leading a team of writers on a Pulitzer-Prize-winning special project that examines the social and economic disparity between Dallas's northern and southern sides.

Under Willey's direction, what is now called "The Gap Project" has led the Morning News to highlight the many varied issues contributing to a lower quality of life on the south side of the city. The editorial board has advocated for legislation making it easier to deal with vacant land issues, and asked the city to pass ordinances that cut down on code-enforcement issues, and other high-level policy changes. At the same time, Willey and her team have published a monthly feature focusing on smaller problems called "Ten Drops in the Bucket," which identifies and tracks a rolling list of ten needs–from fixing potholes to cleaning up trash–that city or property owners are asked to fix.

"It's been a huge challenge because it's a multifaceted issue and to have an impact, it's going to take multiple years of sustained efforts," Willey says. "That's why we were so gratified that the Pulitzer board recognized our effort this year with the Pulitzer Prize for Editorial Writing."

It's not the first time that Willey has been honored for her career accomplishments. She was also a Pulitzer finalist for a four-year editorial campaign to amend the Texas constitution to require legislators to publicly record their votes by name. The series won numerous accolades from other professional organizations as well.

But like most journalists, Willey spent her fair share of time covering school board meetings, crime, and car crashes before making it to the top. She credits her undergraduate experiences at Northern Arizona University for unleashing her passion for journalism through hands-on activities for classes, as well as time spent as a staff member for the Lumberjack, the student-run newspaper. One of her mentors in the Journalism Department, Dr. Bostrom, encouraged her to take actual reporting classes and earn a hands-on approach to interviewing and writing.

"I remember Public Affairs Reporting most poignantly, because we were required to cover school board meetings for the Flagstaff Public School District and city hall meetings," Willey recalls. "We had to write up a story and put it under the professor's door by 8 a.m. the next morning to simulate deadlines. I found that I loved that. I could actually get paid for learning things and explaining them to other people. What could be better?"

As for the next generation of NAU journalism students, Willey believes that despite turbulent times in the industry, the future of the profession is solid for anyone prepared to work hard.

"Good writing is important and it is a skill—good writers will always have a job somewhere," she says. "If you are informed, smart, and can see both sides of an issue, there will always be a market for that."

After all, there are still plenty of good stories to tell.