Matt Apuzzo ’00, who began his journalism career with the Colby Echo, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting this week as a member of an Associated Press investigative team that revealed the New York Police Department’s secret surveillance of Muslims, a years-long effort that many said violated civil liberties and NYPD policies.
Apuzzo and three colleagues spent months compiling evidence of the covert program. Their reports, which included publication of secret documents related to the spying program, sparked widespread debate about and scrutiny of the NYPD’s aggressive domestic intelligence program.
Said AP President Tom Curley: “No matter where you come down on the merits of this issue, one thing is clear: the public is better off knowing what methods its government is up to in the name of keeping people safe. A vigorous and strong free press is essential to helping inform the debate, especially when civil liberties are at stake.”
For Apuzzo the award is the pinnacle of a career that began when he was asked to take over as Echo sports editor as a sophomore. He went on to serve as the Echo’s editor, and did his best, he said, to cover Colby as would “a real newspaper reporter.”
Apuzzo said Colby was “the ideal background” for a journalist, as his education provided a broad foundation (he majored in biology), and encouraged the curiosity and analytical skills needed for investigative work.
While at Colby, Apuzzo worked part-time at the Waterville Morning Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal in Augusta. He began his newspaper work taking sports scores over the phone in the Sentinel newsroom but went on to general reporting. He later worked at the New Bedford (Mass.) Standard Times, where he was a crime reporter. His team at the AP reports on intelligence and national security matters, among others.
Apuzzo, 33, has written about national issues for years but said it was at Colby and the Echo that he learned what it was like to both report on and live in a community—training that was a preview for the reaction to the hard-hitting reporting that would follow.
During his tenure, the Echo covered controversial and difficult stories, including a crackdown by local police on college underage drinking. “I was quite surprised that the community that I was part of did not react favorably to the stories I was writing,” he said. “It was a really good early lesson that when the news is not favorable the community often reacts negatively to the reporter.”
Colby also offered early investigative training, including a story that broke the news of the hiring of President William D. Adams a week before it was to be announced.
Apuzzo said he got tipped off to Adams’s selection by a confidential source the night before the newspaper was going to press.
“We got it from our source Tuesday night,” he said, “but it was just one source, so Wednesday morning as we were putting the paper to bed I called Bucknell [University, where Adams was president] and I asked to speak to President Adams. He immediately takes the call, which is pretty much a confirmation. … He says, ‘What are you going to report on? I told him, ‘We’re going to report that you’re going to be the president.’ He said, ‘Well, when is this going to run?’ I said, ‘It’s going to run tomorrow.’ He said, ‘I haven’t told anybody here. You have to give me time.’ I’m like, ‘The story’s running tomorrow, so you have until tomorrow.’“
The Echo reported Adams’s hiring, and the story earned Apuzzo a summons to see then Dean of the College Earl Smith, the advisor to the student newspaper. “He said, ‘Officially, I can’t believe you did that. Unofficially, I’m so proud of you.’”
“That was just so cool,” Apuzzo said from the AP offices in Washington, “to get support like that.”
He is married to Rebecca Schechter ’01, an immigration lawyer in Washington. They have two children, Dominic, 2, and Daphne, 2 weeks.
The Pulitzer Prize winning stories are online.
Listen to Apuzzo on Fresh Air with Terry Gross.
Read more in the Morning Sentinel.