Jo Craven McGinty '85 receives School of Communications inaugural Distinguished Alumni Award

New York Times projects editor Jo Craven McGinty, a 1985 Elon journalism graduate who has been a part of two Pulitzer Prize teams, received the first-ever Distinguished Alumni Award in the School of Communications on April 19.

The former Pendulum editor presented an afternoon workshop for students and faculty on computer-assisted reporting, also called data journalism, then received the inaugural award at a dinner that evening in front of the school’s faculty. She spoke about how well her Elon education prepared her for a journalism career.

McGinty was on the Washington Post team that received the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for a series on shootings by city police. Later, she joined The New York Times and contributed to a series on railway safety that won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting.

“Her skills in database reporting illustrate how numbers can come alive and have meaning,” Dean Paul Parsons said in introducing McGinty. “Jo’s career is an inspiration to current and future students about how journalism can serve the public good.”

The first Pulitzer actually has its origins when McGinty was pursuing a master’s degree in the School of Journalism at the University of Missouri. She worked at the National Institute for Computer Assisted Reporting housed at Missouri. One day while reviewing an FBI Uniform Crime Reports database, she noticed a category of missing data — justifiable homicides. When she joined the Washington Post in 1997, in a temporary position, she gained her editor’s approval to pursue the story. She filed a federal Freedom of Information request with the FBI and eventually received the missing data. It showed that Washington, D.C., police were shooting and killing people at a much higher rate than any other big-city police force in the nation. McGinty analyzed the data for the series “Deadly Force” that received the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

She played a similarly important role in The New York Times investigative series “Death on the Tracks.” To quote a judge, the series used a combination of “sophisticated computer analysis and good old-fashioned reporting.” The series received the 2005 Pulitzer for National Reporting and spurred the railroad industry to take corrective actions to prevent deaths on the tracks due to signal malfunctions and other problems.

After graduating from Elon, she worked at the Burlington Times-News under editor Don Bolden, now retired, who spoke at the Distinguished Alumni dinner in McGinty’s honor. She also worked at the Durham Herald-Sun and Newsday.

“It’s exciting,” McGinty said in an earlier interview. “After having been around for awhile, you have a chance to look back and a chance to appreciate the decisions that changed your life. It made me think about what a critical and good decision it was to choose Elon because (it) turned out to be just the perfect place for me to develop my life and career.”

Last fall, a faculty committee in the School of Communications nominated two alumni to be in the school’s inaugural class of Distinguished Alumni Award recipients. The other 2012 recipient will be Doug Finberg, executive vice president for marketing at MGM Studios in Los Angeles. Finberg, a 1994 communications graduate who delivered the university’s 2008 Commencement address, will return to Elon to receive the award on April 26.