Byline Award

GerrittJeffery J. Gerritt, Grad ’80
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Jeffery Gerritt says, “Journalism is an ongoing education; it’s a ticket to places and people most careers don’t offer.” He is living proof: Jeff’s journalism career has taken him from working nights as a security guard in Marquette’s residence halls to becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and editor for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Journalism has led Jeff around the world — from a six-week trip to Ukraine to the West Bank to interview Yassar Arafat to visiting more than 60 prisons to community health centers in Tanzania to interviewing President Barack Obama. Some of Jeff’s stories have literally changed lives — getting a dying or innocent person out of prison and changing the entire health care system in Michigan state prisons.

He strives to write about people on the margins, people who are often forgotten. He won the Pulitzer Prize in 2020 for a series of editorials revealing medical neglect of county jail inmates across Texas. As Jeff says, “Some stories need to be told, whether people want to hear them or not.”

Jeff is well aware that newspapers are rapidly changing and disappearing, but he believes that journalism — telling stories about the world — will go on forever. He gives back to the profession by mentoring young journalists and working to improve the diversity of newsrooms.

Jeff defines success as leaving the world better than you found it. He credits Marquette with giving him the skills and moral framework to allow him to know what is important and how to accomplish things that are important to him.

Fun Facts:

Name a Marquette faculty or staff member who had an impact on you, and how.
Professor William Thorn. Engaged and lively, he was an excellent teacher who cared about his students. What made him special was that he seemed to believe in me at a time when my confidence level was low. I wasn’t sure I could make it through graduate school, much less succeed in journalism. Professor Thorn took an interest in me, which gave me confidence. Professor Thorn seemed to know where I was headed as a journalist, even before I started. I remember the two of us talking about Precision Journalist — the use of databases and surveys to inform stories. He knew I would use those techniques, but he told me he didn’t think they were going to define me. “You’re more of a Jimmy Breslin, Studs Terkel type,” he said. Obviously, I didn’t deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as those guys — and still don’t. What he meant was that I was going to be a people’s journalist, someone who went out on the street and talked to all kinds of people. That turned out to be true. That was always my strength, that I could go out and deal with all kinds of people.

What is one of your favorite Marquette memories?
Just walking to class or work from my apartment on N. 23rd Street and smelling the yeast. I love that smell, and it always take me back to Milwaukee and Marquette. Also helping undergraduates with their writing assignments in the wee hours of the morning while I was on duty as a security guard at one of the dormitories.

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