Winning a Pulitzer Prize is truly a special event in a journalist’s life.
Stephen Beard has been fortunate enough to be part of not one, but two Pulitzer-winning efforts. But it’s the most recent award that literally hit home for the Ball State graduate.
Mr. Beard, a graphics journalist with USA TODAY, was part of a team at the Indianapolis Star that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting for the team’s year-long investigation of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s (IMPD) K-9 unit. The investigative series, “Mauled: When Police Dogs are Weapons,” came together in partnership with The Marshall Project, AL.com, and the Invisible Institute.
According to the IndyStar’s investigation, people in Indianapolis were more likely to be bitten by a police dog than anywhere else among the nation’s 20 largest cities. Around the same time that the IndyStar published its report, IMPD announced that it would be changing when and how it uses its police dogs. IMPD officials said the changes came after the department spent months reviewing national best practices and consulting with subject matter experts, the IndyStar reported.
Mr. Beard had a significant role on the IndyStar team that worked on the investigative series.
“I contributed charts and diagrams that illustrated key findings in the series, like Indianapolis’ high per-capita rate of K-9 injuries and the severity of ‘bite-and-hold‘ tactics employed by numerous police departments,” he explained.
This project wasn’t Mr. Beard’s first brush with a Pulitzer. Working for USA TODAY Network, Beard also contributed graphics and animations to the 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning Arizona Republic’s project, “The Wall.”
“That was a special feeling, knowing I’d been a part of something bigger,” Mr. Beard said. “The 2021 prize is very special to me as Indy has been my home since 2006, and I got to celebrate it and share in it with my local colleagues.
“I worked at the IndyStar for 14 years and had a strong working relationship with reporter Ryan Martin, photographer Mykal McEldowney, executive editor Katrice Hardy, and projects editor Alvie Lindsay,” Mr. Beard continued, “and they trusted me to convey these points of the series in visuals.”
Another distinct difference between the two award-winning projects for Mr. Beard was the way in which the groups of journalists were able to collaborate and put the stories together.
“This was my first big project completed entirely via Zoom and in a work-from-home format,” Mr. Beard said of the workflow of the IMPD project during the COVID-19 pandemic. “We met often with editors, writers, data reporters, and photographers from our other partners and discussed updates and progress to our pieces of the project. In many ways, the heavy Zoom experience prepared me for my new role at USA TODAY, where we frequently collaborate remotely with journalists from around our network.”
Ball State roots
Mr. Beard earned his Bachelor of Arts in Journalism at Ball State in 1997. He said he really enjoyed his time at the University, particularly as he recalled the feeling of walking into The Ball State Daily News newsroom every day to see what kind of story he’d be working on.
“What really stuck at Ball State, for me, were the experiences and relationships formed with classmates, fellow Daily News staffers, instructors, and advisors,” he said. “I treasure the abstract memories from Ball State.”
When it comes to advice for graphics journalism students, Mr. Beard says: if you’re naturally curious, you should explore and nurture that inclination.
“There’s no single right way to pursue a career in graphics journalism,” he added. “But if you’re passionate about taking what you’ve learned about a topic and distilling that information into clean, clear visuals, you’re well on your way.”
And while the awards won along the way are certainly an honor, Mr. Beard first and foremost believes in the pursuit of meaningful stories to communities across the country.
“I’ve always viewed journalism as a public service and a way to use our platform to shine a light on people and subjects that require our attention,” Mr. Beard said. “Any accolades that come our way for the work we do are appreciated and worth celebrating, but awards are not the goal. Fostering public discussion around change and reform is the end goal.”