Column: How I contributed to a Pulitzer win

Fernando Haro Garcia shares how his experience covering catastrophic storms for Lookout Santa Cruz last year led to his winning journalism’s most prestigious award.

Column: How I contributed to a Pulitzer win
Fernando Haro Garcia. Photo by Carina Aceves.

Local news publication Lookout Santa Cruz won a Pulitzer Prize today for its coverage of multiple storms that caused catastrophic flooding in Santa Cruz County in January 2023.

I was part of that team. Here’s how that happened.

My journalism career began just six years ago after I enrolled in El Camino College and joined the student newspaper, The Union. There, I quickly learned what it meant for a community to have a local newspaper they could rely on to hold leaders accountable.

Within the next few years, I would report for Cal State Long Beach’s student newspaper Daily Forty-Niner, and finally, at the end of 2021, the Long Beach Post.

The Post gave me my first real opportunity to cover a large city. It was nerve-racking at first, but my editors were always there to guide me. It’s thanks to their influence and the skills I picked up in that newsroom that I was able to report on tragic, but meaningful, stories for the Long Beach community.

Capitola Warf was split in half by massive waves during last year’s catastrophic storms in Santa Cruz County. Photo by Fernando Haro Garcia

By the start of my second year at the Post, I had gained a better sense of how to pick out which stories were the most important to tell. I had also built relationships in the community that helped me get first-hand accounts and information.

Those skills became useful in early January 2023. That’s when David Sommers, the Post’s publisher at that time, put me on a plane to Northern California to help a small news team cover storms that had devastated the Santa Cruz region with widespread flooding.

I landed in San Jose, hopped in my rental car, and headed to Santa Cruz to prepare for the storm coverage I would be assigned the following day.

The roads were dark with sharp turns, and it was lightly drizzling. At the time, I didn’t think much of it because I didn’t know how badly the last round of storms had affected the county and figured maybe this new storm would somehow pass.

The following morning, I headed out with Kevin Painchaud, a photojournalist with Lookout Santa Cruz, to talk with residents in Watsonville, where a shelter had recently opened for anyone looking to escape the weather or have a warm meal.

We drove around for several hours in the rain that day, talking with city workers and volunteers filling sandbags, while residents in nearby areas like Soquel were bracing for a difficult night of torrential downpours and flooding. Potential evacuations, and the destruction of more homes, loomed.

The following day, Painchaud and I headed to the Rio Del Mar neighborhood where much of the area had flooded. Closer to the beach, several homes suffered severe damage from the storm, displacing many residents.

Despite this difficult time, the locals were welcoming as we asked them about the storm and the damage done to their homes. It was clear that they valued the work we were doing at Lookout Santa Cruz to document what was quickly becoming a historic weather event.

Congratulate Fernando Haro Garcia on his Pulitzer Prize win.

Although I wasn’t able to stay very long, I left Santa Cruz grateful for the opportunity to cover a new city, where I gained an even greater understanding of how to cover my community in Long Beach.

Today, the Pulitzer Prize jury conferred its “Breaking News Reporting” award to the team at Lookout Santa Cruz for their coverage of those storms in January 2023. My name was recognized among theirs.

Lookout is staffed with tremendously gifted writers who deserve this most prestigious award in journalism. While the publication has only been around since 2020, during that time, it quickly became a lifeline resource for many of its readers.

My brief but impactful experience with Lookout’s team also became vital to my trajectory as a journalist serving my own community.

Maybe I’m still in shock, but this isn’t something I ever thought would happen when I decided to pursue journalism just six years ago—especially given that I’m currently on an unfair labor practice strike at the Long Beach Post that began almost seven weeks ago. Lately, a future as a news reporter has felt like it's slipping out of my hands due to the state of the embattled journalism industry in the U.S.

But seeing the news this morning that a small and relatively new publication like Lookout Santa Cruz had won a Pulitzer, helped me regain some hope for the future and the next generation of reporters. It was another reminder of just how essential local journalism is to every community.

Fernando Haro Garcia, breaking news reporter at Long Beach Post, has been on an unfair labor practice strike from the newspaper since March 21 along with Jason Ruiz and Alicia Robinson. Even though he hasn’t received a paycheck in weeks, Fernando has continued to cover criminal justice and breaking news in Long Beach under The Watchdog.

Buy him a coffee directly (here) to thank him. Or you can donate to the Long Beach Media Guild Relief Fund (here) to help striking and laid-off workers pay for groceries, bills and rent.

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