POUGHKEEPSIE, NY -- A year of exhaustive reporting led by Vassar alumna Alexandra Berzon (class of 2001), about fatal construction working conditions on the famed Las Vegas Strip, has earned the Las Vegas Sun the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service. Berzon was the lead reporter for the series, which included over 50 combined stories and editorials.
According to the Pulitzer website, the prize was, "Awarded to the Las Vegas Sun, and notably the courageous reporting by Alexandra Berzon, for the exposure of the high death rate among construction workers on the Las Vegas Strip amid lax enforcement of regulations, leading to changes in policy and improved safety conditions."
"Winning the Pulitzer is fabulous, but the fact that this series stopped people from dying on Las Vegas Strip construction projects is the most important part of what we did," Sun Managing Editor Michael J. Kelley told the Associated Press. "It couldn't be more deserved that they picked this reporter's work."
Nine construction workers on the Strip had died in 16 months, as casino companies undertook a $32 billion building boom, including the largest private commercial development in U.S. history. Berzon's stories, beginning with "Pace is New Peril" on March 30, 2008 (http://lasvegassun.com/news/topics/construction-deaths/), described how the rush to build quickly led to safety shortcuts that contributed to the deaths. Three more workers died before others walked off the job in June 2008, calling for improved safety. Congressional hearings followed, and the Nevada Legislature has proposed mandates for safety training and proper oversight by government agencies.
The Sun series was earlier recognized with the Story of the Year, News Feature of the Year, and First Amendment awards by the Nevada Press Association.
ABOUT ALEXANDRA BERZON
Berzon, a Berkeley, CA native, graduated from Vassar College with a degree in urban studies in 2001, and served as a news editor of Vassar's student newspaper The Miscellany News. "I was a reader on Berzon's senior thesis in Urban Studies, so the fact that the excellence in writing I witnessed eight years ago has developed into something extraordinary is particularly gratifying to me, as well as the rest of the Urban Studies students and faculty," noted sociology professor Leonard Nevarez, director of Vassar's multidisciplinary Urban Studies program. Nevarez continues to use Berzon's senior thesis, "City within a City'? The Implications of Community-Based Art in the Mission District, San Francisco," as a reference for Urban Studies students. "She always had a sense of vision about her work and a really sophisticated understanding of the kinds of arguments and evidence she'd need to make a strong, passionate claim," he said.
While a student at the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism (graduating in 2006), Berzon reported for National Public Radio on a community of South Pacific islanders who emigrated to Auckland, New Zealand because of fears of sea level rise from global warming. The broadcasts were part of a multi-part series that won the George Polk Award for Radio Reporting in 2007. After writing for the Anchorage Daily News and the San Antonio Express-News, she joined the Las Vegas Sun as a business reporter in 2007.
ABOUT THE PULITZER PRIZE
The Pulitzer Prize awards achievements in journalism, literature, drama and music. The program was established by Joseph Pulitzer in 1917 and is administered by Columbia University. Along with the Las Vegas Sun, newspapers such as the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Detroit Free Press and St. Petersburg Times also earned Pulitzer prizes for 2009.
Two other Vassar graduates are also recipients of Pulitzers for achievements in journalism. In 1987, Matthew Brelis (Vassar class of 1980), like Berzon, was awarded the Pulitzer in Public Service, and in 1971, Lucinda Franks (Vassar class of 1968) was awarded the Pulitzer for National Reporting.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.