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Pulitzer winner is glad she ‘stumbled’ into journalism at UNL

“Small-town living has not instilled small aspirations in a 20-year-old junior journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.”

Marjie Lundstron used those words to begin an autobiography she wrote in 1977, when she was a junior in the school of journalism. Current evidence suggests she was absolutely right.

On April 9, 1991, Marjie Lundstrom won a Pulitzer Prize for journalism. With Rochelle Sharpe of New York, Lundstrom wrote a four-part series of stories disclosing that hundreds of child abuse-related deaths go undetected each year as a result of errors made by medical examiners and coroners. The Pulitzer was awarded for national reporting.

Lundstrom, 34, said that she was happily surprised to receive the award. She and Sharpe found out in March that they were finalists, she said. “I did my celebrating then.” She felt honored just to get that farm Lundstrom said, but believed she and Sharpe had “no chance” of winning the award.

Lundstrom was working for Gannett New Service, based in Washington, D.C., when she and Sharpe received the assignment to do a national story on child abuse. After weeks of studying court records, they were told by a welfare worker that they should look at discrepancies in coroners’ reports.

That tip led them to statistics that told a horrifying story. Often, no autopsies are done despite suspicious circumstances surrounding children’s deaths. She said the matter became important to her and Sharpe as more than just the topic of a story. Perhaps the problem will get more attention now that the series ahs received the Pulitzer, she said.

“When the party’s over, I’m really glad people will have to face up to this. It’s a crime.”

Lundstrom is now a senior writer at the Sacramento Bee in California. She found out about her award under somewhat unusual circumstances, on a conference phone call to Gannett News Service headquarters. The wire machine at the Bee had crashed just before the Pulitzer announcements were scheduled to come through, so Lundstrom got on the phone with Sharpe and other fellow co-workers to hear the results.

When she heard yelling and screaming at the other end of the line, Lundstrom suspected what might have happened, but “no one would say we had won.” Finally someone remembered she was on the phone and gave her the good news.

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The series that won the award was the kind of work Lundstrom likes to do best, she said. “Reporting is what I like most. I love general assignment work. It’s as good as any beat.”

Lundstrom worked for the Ft. Collins Coloradoan upon graduation, then for a city magazine called the Denver Monthly and later for the Denver Post. She worked for the Sacramento Bee from January of 1989 to March 1990, when she went to Gannett New Service. She returned to Sacramento after deciding she preferred to live in the West.

twill pattern color Blue two silk Tie and ascot ply cravat scarf silk 100 paisley Prettystern choice Men's The daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Max Lundstrun of Wayne, NE, Lundstrom did not come to the University Of Nebraska with her mind firmly fixed on a career in journalism. “I stumbled into journalism,” she said, but has been grateful that she did. “The training at Nebraska was just excellent. I’ve always bragged about it.”

Prettystern 100 color ascot Blue silk paisley choice two ply silk Men's twill and Tie scarf pattern cravat She recalls former faculty members Jim Patten and Josie Weber. “They were my inspirations,” she said.

Former college of Journalism Dean R. Neale Copple has fond memories of Lundstrom too. “Marjie was a brilliant, enthusiastic student while she was here, and now, obviously has preformed equally well as a professional. I was pleased to see her quoted as saying she wasn’t sure the award was what it was all about and that, rather, you have to be enthusiastic about your subject matter and that is what it is all about.

Copple added, “In some ways, I hope this supported our efforts to have a very professional program and one that insists upon a sound liberal education to go along with it. I’m not at all sure it’s possible to produce this level of quality graduates without both of these.”

Lundstrom is the fourth UNL alumnus to receive a Pulitzer Prize for journalism Jim Risser, who graduated in 1959, earned the award in 1976 and again in 1979, both times while employed by the Des Moines Register, Karen Blessen, Class of 1973, was working for the Dallas Morning News when she received the award in 1989. Charles Mohr, who graduated in 1951, received the Pulitzer in 1985 when he was a reporter for The New York Times.

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