Jonah Kessel '06 contributes to Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times Series

By: Mark Tarnacki

jonah kesselA New York Times reporting team that includes Saint Michael's journalism graduate Jonah Kessel ’06 has won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Journalism.

Jonah, son of Saint Michael's economics Professor Herb Kessel, was home from China in Vermont visiting his family for a week and just had finished speaking with Saint Michael's College journalism students about his work at the invitation of his former Professors David Mindich and Jerry Swope when he got the news.

Pulitzer judges made the award to "The New York Times Staff for its penetrating look into business practices by Apple and other technology companies that illustrates the darker side of a changing global economy for workers and consumers." Jonah has been a freelance videographer, photographer and reporter in China since 2009 and has been doing regular contracted work for the Times. His credit for videography appears on several of the 10 pieces from that technology investigation submitted to the Pulitzer Board in the Explanatory Journalism category.

"It's not every day (or even every decade) that a former student is part of a Pulitzer-Prize winning team. A huge congratulations to Jonah Kessel´╗┐ for his reporting on China," said Mindich, professor of media studies, journalism & digital arts, whose class Kessel was visiting on Monday.  "Jonah certainly deserved this recognition on the basis of his excellent journalism, but the fact that he won it on a day that he was giving his time and expertise to his alma mater speaks to his quality as a person too."

"It's a bit surreal to be honest," Kessel said Tuesday about the Pulitzer news. "I'm sort of taking it in as it comes." He said a Times editor explained to him that the citation lists only the writers, which he found "a bit disappointing."

"But in an email to me, this editor basically told me 'none of the video team gets mentioned in the citation due to their arcane rules, but you should be proud,'" Kessel said. He added that his work also got a nice specific mention behind the scenes from the judges according to that Times editor.

Besides being the one person legally licensed by China to do video for the Times in that country, Kessel carries an employee ID from the paper and they sponsor his visa. However, as a freelancer he also can and does shoot commercial video, documentaries, TV ads and other work.

Directly after Saint Michael's Kessel did photography briefly for the Burlington Free Press, then was a newspaper staff photographer in the U.S. western states, including in Lake Tahoe, for a few years. From there he did a stint on a grant as an adviser in Algeria, redesigning newspapers, before receiving an unsolicited offer from the Chinese government to help redesign China Daily, the largest English-language newspaper in China.

Kessel says a model of video camera that has the look and feel of the still camera he always uses professionally changed his professional focus to video about two years ago while revolutionizing the news photography business, and now he has the luxury of turning away work, "bouncing between China and Burma - and I'm on call with the North Korea thing. I'm supposed to be ready to jump over there."

Also nominated as finalists in the Pulitzer Explanatory Journalism category this year were: Dan Egan of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for his exhaustive examination of the struggle to keep Asian carp and other invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes and ultimately all of the nation's inland waters, a story enhanced by animated graphics; and Tony Bartelme of The Post and Courier, Charleston, SC, for his stories that helped readers understand the complex factors driving up their insurance bills.

See some of Jonah's prize-winning work:

Do Our Videos Have Real Life Impact? - by Jonah Kessel

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