Two University of Alabama at Birmingham alumni were part of a team of Tuscaloosa News journalists that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting on Monday for coverage of the April 27, 2011, tornado. Shweta Vora Gamble, a design editor, and Anthony Bratina, a graphics editor, were among the group who constructed the award-winning pages. Both cut their journalistic teeth while working for the Kaleidoscope student newspaper, they say.
“The UAB Student Media office is extremely proud of our Pulitzer Prize-winning alumni,” says Amy Kilpatrick, director of student media. “Shweta and Anthony knocked a home run with their work during trying circumstances. They set a new standard for student success stories I tell around here.”
Gamble and Bratina both credit their experiences at UAB and specifically working at the student newspaper for giving them to skills they needed to work in concert as a team.
“I’ve always been proud to call myself a fellow Kaleidoscoper and UAB alum,” Bratina says. “Both of which have had a huge role in the way I conduct myself and my work today.”
Since 1917, the Pulitzer Prizes have been awarded annually to honor excellence in journalism and the arts. The Tuscaloosa News staff won for “its enterprising coverage of a deadly tornado, using social media as well as traditional reporting to provide real-time updates, help locate missing people and produce in-depth print accounts even after power disruption forced the paper to publish at another plant 50 miles away,” according to the website.
April 27 was a sobering day, Gamble and Bratina say.
“The day the tornado struck Tuscaloosa, it was all-hands-on-deck in the newsroom,” says Gamble, a 2000 journalism graduate. “It didn’t matter if you were a reporter, photographer, graphic artist — everybody just stayed and pitched in.”
On April 27, the 34-year-old mother of one helped coordinate the paper’s presentation on page 1A and the rest of their local coverage inside. She created visual elements that were used throughout the reports in the following months. She read stories, wrote headlines and designed photo pages with a mission to paint an accurate picture of the devastation.
Bratina was given the task of showing the communities that were hardest hit. He paired photos with a few of the most devastated areas and also created a map to show the tornado’s path in regard to the University of Alabama so that parents, who could not reach their children, could see where the damage had occurred. He then modified a map of the Tuscaloosa area into a usable web image that had points along the tornado’s path that could be clicked to bring up photos of the damage.
“We were all working at an extremely fast pace, to get on the computer, finish up and let someone else get on,” says Bratina, a 2000 art studio graduate. “In the meantime, I had my two boys — 4 and 6 at the time — with me and all I kept thinking as I was hearing the reports coming in was, ‘How am I going to explain to them what happened when they go back to school and realize there are a few empty chairs?’”
“Luckily, the death toll wasn’t as high as we had first suspected and I didn’t have to answer that question,” says the 41-year-old. “Although, I know that quite a few parents from other schools did.”