Sunday 15 September 2019

'It's bitter-sweet ... our reporting came from such tragedy' - Irish journalist awarded prestigious Pulitzer Prize

Paula McMahon (second from left) with some of the award winning team from the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper
Paula McMahon (second from left) with some of the award winning team from the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper
Catherine Devine

Catherine Devine

An Irish journalist who was awarded one of the world's most prestigious journalism awards has said that her prize is "bitter-sweet" as her reporting stemmed from a "horrendous" tragedy.

Dublin native Paula McMahon (50) was part of an investigative reporting team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service in the US last week.

Paula McMahon
Paula McMahon

The team of reporters at the South Florida Sun Sentinel newspaper was honoured for exposing failings by both school and law enforcement officials before and following the deadly rampage at a high school near Fort Lauderdale when a former student opened fire on Valentine’s Day, 2018. The shooting left 17 staff and students dead.

The Florida school shooting investigation was awarded the Pulitzer Prize against stiff competition, including the Washington Post's extensive coverage of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey.

Paula, who grew up in Ballymun in Dublin said that the investigation "was very challenging and emotional."

"For everyone involved, it was such a huge undertaking, and we tried to cover every aspect from why it happened, to how we can prevent it from happening again. A core team of 12 of us began working on the project from the moment we heard that there were gunshot wounds and the paper continues to work on the story today.

"When it was announced that we won the award, we were proud and happy that our work was acknowledged but we were very conscious that our hard work was done because of a horrendous tragedy.

"We all live and work here and our children go to public schools like the children who were murdered in Fort Lauderdale, so it is very bitter-sweet."

The former Irish Independent journalist added that the prestigious award is "not too shabby for a Ballymun girl" and praised her former university, DCU, for her "great training" and "constant encouragement".

Ms McMahon, who is now an American citizen after emigrating to the US in 1998, said her upbringing in Ballymun as a child helped give her the skills to dig deep and ask questions. “You don’t take things at face value,” she said.

But she said the north Dublin community, where her mother and brother still live, also gave her a great start in life and she still visits regularly.

Ms McMahon worked at Independent Newspapers between 1990 and 1993.

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