Northwestern State University alumnus Jim Mustian was part of a team at the Advocate in Baton Rouge which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize on Monday.
The Advocate was honored for reporting on the racial impacts of Louisiana’s unique laws allowing juries to convict defendants without a unanimous verdict. The coverage led to the state’s voters deciding to amend the state’s constitution to require unanimous verdicts in criminal trials.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Mustian, a 2008 graduate in journalism. “It’s incredibly humbling to have played a part in this.”
In February 2018, Mustian was sent to Oregon to investigate why the state was the only other one besides Louisiana to allow nonunanimous jury verdicts. He interviewed professors, attorneys, a retired Oregon Supreme Court justice and state citizens to find out why the state made this determination. Mustian said he is a journalist because of an opportunity like this to have an impact.
“It’s the reason we do this,” he said. “Journalism is about providing information to voters so they can make decisions. This was an easy one when you consider all the facts and history on the law.”
Mustian joined the Associated Press in New York last September covering federal law enforcement in New York City. He was a staff writer at the Advocate for more than six years and was also a reporter at the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, The Odessa American, the Daily Iberian in New Iberia and L’Observateur a weekly paper in LaPlace. Mustain said the experience he received at NSU prepared him for his career.
“It was absolutely critical,” said Mustian. “I learned everything from how to conduct an interview to writing nutgrafs (a paragraph that explains the concept of a story). The most essential experience was participating in student media. I worked as a news editor for the Current Sauce and also reported on a number of stories students cared about.”
Mustian said former faculty member Neil Ralston was one of his first journalism professors and taught him how to “recognize news and develop a nose for it.” He said retired faculty members Mary Brocato, Raymond Strother and Tommy Whitehead along with Dr. Paula Furr, head of the Department of New Media, Journalism, and Communication Arts, influenced him as teachers, mentors and friends.
“They welcomed me into the NSU family, nurtured my writing and taught me what to wear to dinner parties,” said Mustian.
More information on the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winners is available at Pulitzer.org.