A Pulitzer Prize Winner
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
apparent early on but over the years the subject matter has become decidedly
more serious. Willey answered the call to journalism as an undergraduate at
Northern Arizona University, and is now the vice president and editorial page
editor at the Dallas Morning News. Since 2007, a team of writers under her direction has been
advocating for narrowing the social and economic disparity between northern and
southern Dallas. The writers won the
2010 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
project, called "Bridging Dallas' North-South Gap," has highlighted
the many and varied issues contributing to a lower quality of life on the south
side of the city, a region suffering from generations of neglect. The editorial
board has advocated for a wide array of reforms, including ordinances cracking
down on code enforcement and pay-day loan centers and state legislation making
it easier to deal with vacant land issues.
of the ongoing project is a monthly editorial 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 urged 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 with the Pulitzer Prize for editorial
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 accidents before making it
to the top. She credits her undergraduate experiences at Northern Arizona
University for unleashing her passion for journalism through class activities,
as well as time spent as a staff member for the Lumberjack,
the student-run newspaper.
"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 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.