J-School grads contribute to The East Bay Times’ Pulitzer win

Sam Richards and Tor Haugan are both UM J-School alums.

Two UM Journalism School grads played a part in the East Bay Times’ 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting. The East Bay Times, created by the April 2016 consolidation of the Oakland Tribune and the Contra Costa Times (Walnut Creek, California), received the award April 10 for its coverage of the “Ghost Ship” fire in Oakland in December. Thirty-six people died in the fire, which prompted investigations into why people were allowed to live in that warehouse-turned-artists’ space and why the Oakland Fire Department was slow to respond to a problem it knew existed before the tragic fire.

Tor Haugan, a 2011 J-school grad and video editor for the Bay Area News Group, was the video team coordinator, overseeing the production of our videos about the warehouse fire, starting the day after the blaze. Tor wrote and produced breaking news videos; co-produced the video package that went with the news group’s Dec. 11 story about the last hours of the Ghost Ship; and produced and wrote follow-up videos, including the exclusive about how the owners had known about the dangerous electrical system. He has been with BANG since 2012.

Sam Richards, who graduated from UM’s J-school in 1983, is usually a city hall-general assignment reporter with the East Bay Times in Walnut Creek but worked an editing shift the Saturday morning after the fire, spending seven hours that day continuously handling feeds from reporters in the field for updating the main fire story on the East Bay Times and Mercury News websites, and doing the lead editing for the online first-day story about how family and friends of fire victims were awaiting word on the fate of their loved ones. He also reported that night, interviewing family members of people missing after the fire, and witnesses to the blaze, contributing to both main print stories the next day. He has been with BANG’s predecessor companies since 1992.

Nick Ut Reflects On His Career: From Hell To Hollywood

When airplanes flew low over Nick Ut’s home in Los Angeles, California, his house shook and reminded him of the Vietnam War. Born in Long An, Vietnam, Ut started working for the Associated Press (AP) when he was 16 years old, following in the footsteps of his older brother who had recently died while on assignment in 1965. Ut inherited his brother’s cameras and taught himself photography by working in the AP’s darkroom and shooting protests in Saigon.

His editors’ quickly recognized Ut’s skill and sent him into the field to cover the Vietnam War. Ut’s brother’s voice echoed in his head. “I make a picture for you, my brother, to change the war,” Ut said.

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Nick Ut checks the screen as his photos scroll by in front of a large audience at the University of Montana. Photo by Alyssa Rabil.

Ut spoke at the University of Montana on March 9, as part of the 100-year anniversary of the Pulitzer Prize and to celebrate his 50 years working for the AP. In 1973, just 21 years old, Ut won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography. He called the picture “The Terror of War,” but others referred to it as “The Napalm Girl.” Dean of the School of Journalism, Larry Abramson, walked past that picture dozens of times, printed on flyers, in the weeks leading up to Ut’s visit. “Even on the Xerox copy, I’d stop and see something new every day,” Abramson said.

The picture features children running down a road in Trang Bang, Vietnam after a napalm attack on the village. The “Napalm Girl” was Phan Thj Kim Phuc, who ran away from the village, arms outstretched and completely naked. Ut shot several frames of her and the other children fleeing before he understood how badly Phuc had been burned by the attack.

“I saw skin coming off her body,” Ut said. “And I thought, oh my God, I don’t want her to die.”

Ut set his cameras aside and started dumping water on Phuc to try and help her. However, he knew that Phuc and the other children needed professional help, so he transported them in the AP van to the nearest hospital. Since then, Ut said, “I keep looking to help the children.”

He’s sent food and clothing to families in Vietnam impacted by the use of Agent Orange, and he’s kept track of Phuc since the day of the attack on June 8th, 1972. Phuc began to refer to Ut as “Uncle Nick” over the years, as he continued to photograph her skin’s recovery and support her as a current U.N. Goodwill Ambassador. Thanks to Ut’s photos, the two have also spoken to media around the world about the cruelties of war. Ut said, “We met the Queen of England, me and her.”

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Sally Stapelton alerted faculty to Ut’s upcoming birthday. J-school faculty and students celebrated with him after class. Photo by Brontë Wittpenn.

Pollner Professor, Sally Stapleton, and Ut’s friend from their shared time at the AP, said, “He takes ‘No means nothing’ better than anyone I know.”

Ut said he’s “always with camera” to be prepared for unexpected stories. In contrast to his time covering war stories, Ut said, “I tell you, Hollywood, it’s a lot of fun.” Now based in Los Angeles, Ut’s shot court cases involving Michael Jackson, Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton. He also captured the “Super Blood Moon” of 2015 and unexpected L.A.P.D. street arrests.

For the UM journalism students in the audience, Ut said the key to a great photo evolves from four elements: keep moving, try different angles, keep shooting and capture different emotions.

The next pressing assignment for Ut will be covering Nancy Reagan’s funeral Friday, March 12th.

Stay up-to-date with Ut’s work by following his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

by Jana Wiegand