SF State lecturer Joanne Derbort, former assigning editor at The Press Democrat, along with the paper’s staff won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in the Breaking News category for their coverage of the Santa Rosa and Sonoma County fires last October.
“I’ve always described this newsroom as the overachieving newsroom because they always work with so little resources,” Derbort, current faculty adviser for Xpress Magazine at SF State, said to journalism students and faculty upon finding out. “They just don’t stop, they just don’t quit.”
The Pulitzer Prize, referred to as the highest award in American journalism, is the second the Santa Rosa Press Democrat has received. The first was for a photograph that won in the Spot News category of a firefighter rescuing a victim in floodwaters in 1997.
Derbort said the fires presented a unique challenge to the newspaper’s staff, making it different than other stories in the past. She explained how the fires not only affected the community impacted by the wildfires, but also members of The Press Democrat’s staff.
“So many of my colleagues were evacuated from their houses,” Derbort said. “They would bring their spouses and kids and set up camp in the newsroom. This disaster wasn’t just one we were covering, but one we were living as well.”
Derbort gathered with journalism students and faculty in the student publication newsroom to celebrate her achievement.
“It was a fantastic surprise when we actually found out – and we are so proud of Joanne. So, so happy for her team. We are incredibly lucky to have her as our advisor and a part of the department,” said Anya Livshyts, editor-in-chief of Xpress Magazine.
Similarly, Venise Wagner, acting journalism department chair, expressed that having Derbort in the department has been valuable.
“I’m so excited for Joanne, and I love what she’s brought to the department,” said Wagner. “I think it helps our students see that there is a purpose behind what we do.”