Former Moab resident David Hasemyer says his love of journalism began during his time as a Grand County High School student. He credits his high school journalism teacher, Marjorie Donoghue, and Sam and Adrien Taylor of The Times-Independent with helping him launch his career.
“You have to acknowledge your roots,” Hasemyer said.
Last week, Hasemyer and colleagues Lisa Song and Elizabeth McGowan of InsideClimate News were awarded a Pulitzer Prize in national reporting for their investigative news series examining the effects of a ruptured oil pipeline that dumped more than 1 million gallons of Canadian heavy crude and tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan in 2010.
The Pulitzer committee praised Hasemyer, Song and McGowan for their “rigorous reports on flawed regulation of the nation’s oil pipelines, focusing on potential ecological dangers posed by diluted bitumen (or ‘dilbit’), a controversial form of oil.”
Widely considered the top national awards for achievement in journalism, literature and musical composition, this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners were announced April 15.
“Every once in a while I still go back to the Pulitzer [website] page and call up the citation and just go ‘wow, that’s stunning,” Hasemyer said in an interview this week. “It’s stunning and amazing and just overwhelming.”
Hasemyer, who graduated from Grand County High in 1973, is the son of the late Del and Athena Hasemyer. He said his father moved to Moab in the 1950s to open an International Harvester dealership, which provided equipment for the uranium mines at the height of Moab’s uranium boom.
When he was a junior in high school, he asked Donoghue if she believed he had the skills to be on the student newspaper staff.
“She said yes,” Hasemyer said. “Then in my late junior year, Sam and Adrien started to take notice. They understood that enthusiasm I had and worked with me. They were very encouraging about it.”
Adrien Taylor describes Hasemyer as a “very inquisitive” teenager with strong writing skills.
“He was probably sometimes too inquisitive for his own good, but that’s what makes a good journalist,” she said. “And he wrote so beautifully.”
After graduating from GCHS, Hasemyer attended college then landed a job as an investigative reporter for the Union-Tribune in San Diego, Calif. Throughout an almost 30-year career with that newspaper he was known for in-depth reporting on a variety of issues that ranged from police misconduct to efforts by Moab residents and downstream Colorado River users to convince the federal government to relocate the 16 million tons of Cold War-era Atlas uranium tailings away from the river.
“For about 10 years, a colleague and I followed how law enforcement had misused informants to get convictions,” Hasemyer said. “It led to three people being released from prison because they had been wrongly convicted.”
In 2009, Hasemyer’s job at the Union-Tribune was eliminated due to budget cuts and company downsizing. Since that time he has been working as a freelance writer and as a public information officer for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). When he got word of the Pulitzer he was in New York City working with FEMA as part of the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief effort.
“It was odd because I just learned we won the Pulitzer yet there was no newsroom, no office, no official celebration,” he said.
That’s because InsideClimate News is an online-only news agency that relies on freelancers and a handful of full-time staff members to cover environmental issues around the world. His work there provides him the opportunity to continue doing in-depth reporting, which he described as “just kind of being the voice for the disenfranchised,” he said.
“Journalism is more than a career. It’s more than blogging and getting more page views,” he said. “It’s a commitment to getting the truth.”
Hasemyer says he still visits Moab occasionally – most recently in 2012 for his high school reunion – and he still feels a strong attachment to his hometown.
“It’s still a special place for me,” he said. “Even though I’ve lived more years of my life away from there now, Moab is still home.”