Alumna earns Pulitzer for COVID-19 coverage with New York Times

June 15, 2021

Alumna Jessica Ruderman from graduation day

As COVID-19 raged last summer, Jess Ruderman ’19, MS ’20, played a pivotal role in telling the story of the pandemic — one infection at a time. The work she helped produce for The New York Times was recognized with the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Public Service.

Since joining the Times as a news assistant just weeks after completing her master’s degree in interactive media, Ruderman has been hard at work collecting and analyzing data from colleges, nursing homes and clusters of COVID-19 positive cases across the country. She’s also monitored and studied vaccine eligibility by state.

In all, she contributed to three of the pieces her team has been recognized for this year, winning a Pulitzer as well as the 2020 Philip Meyer Journalism Award, a public service gold medal from the Society for News Design and the Sigma Delta Chi Award for public service from the Society of Professional Journalists.

“It was absolutely surreal,” Ruderman recalled just days after learning she had been awarded a Pulitzer, the most prestigious honor in journalism.

She and dozens of her colleagues worked tirelessly to collect quickly changing data and make sense of it.

“It was a lot of data collection,” Ruderman said. “We were getting data from a lot of different sources — from calling colleges and nursing homes to combing through Google News and working with various public information officers. It felt like a lot of tedious work, but amounted to something really great.”

The lessons she learned in the School of Communications prepared her for the unprecedented data collection challenges posed by the pandemic, she said.

In a journalism class with Professor Amy Walker, Ruderman and her peers examined how data could help tell stories.

Walker, who taught at Quinnipiac for six years, returned to the Times last year to be a graphics and multimedia editor. She taught the senior digital newsroom course as well as courses in digital reporting and production, data journalism and community engagement. She also earned a Pulitzer for the work.

Ruderman, who was involved in student media at Quinnipiac, said she was amazed by how much she learned about spreadsheets and data analysis during her time at the university.

Ruderman said she was grateful to Dean Chris Roush for emphasizing so many different facets of the industry in the curriculum, including the business side.

“When I was first hired at the Times, I cried,” Ruderman said. “It’s been great.”

She emphasized the importance of data and praised Quinnipiac President Judy Olian for placing an emphasis on it across curriculums at Quinnipiac.

“Data has always mattered and has always provided context for a story,” Ruderman said. “The pandemic has shown the world why data really matters — and people are starting to realize what a number can really mean on an individual basis.”

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