April 16, 2012

Sara Ganim had a motto when reporting on the sex abuse scandal at Penn State University: “Move it forward.” She wanted to address unanswered questions and tell a side of the story that national media outlets weren’t capturing. Ganim’s hard work won her a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for local reporting.

Ganim, a 24-year-old Patriot News reporter, is one of the youngest journalists to win a Pulitzer Prize. (Stephanie Welsh won the 1996 Pulitzer for feature photography at age 22, and Jackie Crosby won the 1985 Pulitzer for specialized reporting at age 23.)

Ganim started covering Penn State’s sex abuse scandal as a 22-year-old, long before it became a national story. She broke the story that a grand jury was investigating Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky for sexual abuse allegations, and has received numerous awards for her ongoing coverage.

She’s the winner of the 2012 Distinguished Writing Award for Local Accountability Reporting from the American Society of News Editors, the 2011 Scripps Howard Award for Community Journalism, the George K. Polk Award, and the Sidney Award. Newsweek recently named her one of the “150 Fearless Women in the World.”

Ganim says on her personal website that she’s been a newspaper reporter since she was a 15-year-old high school sophomore. She was a freelance reporter for the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and later a news intern for the Associated Press. In 2008, she graduated from Penn State University, where she wrote for the student newspaper. While in college, she began writing for the Centre Daily Times in State College, Pa., where she covered the courts and crime beat.

Sara Ganim started reporting on Sandusky as a reporter at the Centre Daily Times.

Ganim — who has also served as an adjunct professor at Penn State and reported for WZWW Radio State College — went on to become a crime reporter for the Patriot News.

Starting off at a smaller paper, she said, gave her an opportunity to learn a variety of skills.

“My first job was great because I had to do everything and so I learned to do a lot in a little bit of time,” she said in an interview with WOUB last week. “I learned to really kind of set my own direction and be out on my own. When you get to a paper a little bit bigger with the resources, it’s like you’re immediately better for it.”

Though her official title is crime reporter, Ganim’s work might be better described as investigative. She has said that she wakes up at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m. most mornings and starts working.

“I have a police scanner on my nightstand,” she writes on her personal site. “I fall to sleep and wake up to the morning news. I work 60-hour weeks digging and investigating, chatting up sources, and peeling back layers until I find amazing stories.”

Ganim regularly incorporates multimedia and social media into her reporting, she says, “because newspaper reporting isn’t just about ink and paper anymore.”

The night Paterno was fired, Ganim captured scenes and interviews on her cell phone and emailed them directly to the newsroom. “The copy desk watched them and translated quotes,” she told WOUB. “If I had gone with a notebook and pen, we would have never made deadline by the time I got them.”

Several news organizations have recognized Ganim’s watchdog reporting (and so did Glamour magazine). The Baltimore Sun said it’s “every bit comparable to the guts and drive of The Washington Post in breaking the Watergate scandal.” Jason Fry and Kelly McBride, who serve as ESPN’s ombuds through the Poynter Review Project, wrote: “With the biggest staff of sports journalists in the world, ESPN should have been leading the charge to ask tough questions and shed light on this scandal. Instead, it was the tiny Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., out in front of the journalism pack.”

Ganim is likely to continue following this story closely, especially with the start of Sandusky’s trial in early June.

“We’re not even trying to predict where this ends or where this goes,” Ganim said in a talk at Ohio University on Sunday. “I think the facts will continue to come out. I think this is something Penn State is going to have to deal with for a long time, and they just need to handle it correctly.”

Correction: The original version of this article stated that Jackie Crosby was the youngest journalist to win a Pulitzer prize. As it turns out, Stephanie Welsh, who won at age 22, was younger.

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