Derek Hawkins hit a home run—a walk-off grand slam, in fact—in his first at bat. The School of Communication master's student works with the Washington Post's investigative unit through a partnership AU has with the legendary newspaper. His inaugural byline was one of three on a November 3, 2015, story that was part of the paper's yearlong series on fatal shootings by police. The team that worked on it, which included Hawkins, won the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.
Not bad for a 31-year-old who was assigned to the project just a week after he arrived in the newsroom.
"I'm so grateful that a few people at the Post were willing to roll the dice on me," he says. "When you work at the Post you're surrounded by people who do work that inspires and motivates you."
Eyes on the prize
Hawkins earned an undergraduate degree in journalism from Northeastern University. While at the school, he interned with the Boston Globe's famed Spotlight investigative unit. At the Post, he worked with reporters Marc Fisher and Scott Higham on "Uneven Justice," a story that examined how the families of victims of police shootings fared in civil court.
"Two bad shootings, two guilty cops," the story's lead reads. "One family sues and gets a million dollars; the other sues and collects not a penny."
"I think the most important thing we did was shed light on how arbitrary the process can feel for families who are left to seek justice or a resolution in civil court," Hawkins says. "Every shooting we examined was deemed to be egregious by prosecutors. These were the worst of the worst. But there wasn't a whole lot of rhyme or reason between whether an officer was convicted and whether or not a family got a civil settlement. Highlighting those disparities, I hope, helps explain how frustrating this process can be."
Hawkins was in a bathroom at a Chinatown bar one Friday evening when he got a call from an editor telling him the team had won a Pulitzer. He was sworn to secrecy until the public announcement was made Monday in the newsroom.
"I feel a lot of pressure to put out great work and hopefully win one for a solo byline someday," he says. "The prospect of this being my only one ever is a hell of a motivator.
"But it's really not about the prize, it's about the work you do."