Alum Notes: DAVID R. ANDERSON, 86 Print

David Anderson, ’86, never expected to win a Pulitzer Prize for journalism—especially as a history major with every intention of getting a law degree.

Oregonian Editor Sandra Rowe congratulates David Anderson on being part of the team that received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Photo by Steven Nehl, 2007 The Oregonian.
But on May 21 he realized many reporters’ lifelong dream, if not his own, and shared one of the nation’s highest journalistic honors, the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News, at a Columbia University ceremony. Although Oregonian Editor Sandy Rowe credited the whole newsroom for its efforts, Anderson was one of nine reporters recognized for the newspaper’s exceptional coverage of a family’s disappearance in the Siskiyou Mountains of southern Oregon and the state’s trouble-fraught efforts to find them.

Anderson graduated with a history degree from the UW in 1986, and began classes at the UW law school that fall. Yet after only six weeks he changed fields, moving halfway across the country to pursue a master’s degree in journalism.  He was still intrigued by law, but previous work at a public defender’s office had made him realize he would rather be investigating cases than arguing them. The woman who would become his wife, Patty Dost, ’87, was already enrolled in—of all things—the law program at the University of Michigan, making his decision of where to go that much easier. The couple completed their degrees in 1990 and returned to the Pacific Northwest, where Anderson started his career as a community news reporter and Dost began working in environmental and natural resource law.

After dabbling at different weeklies throughout the Portland area, Anderson was hired by the Oregonian in 1992 to cover city government in the suburb of Beaverton. His career changed forever when a family of four was reported missing Nov. 29, 2006, in the snowy mountains of southern Oregon. Anderson happened to be working a weekend shift at the paper when he heard the news and drove down to cover the story.

“We all have to work one weekend a month,” he says. “It was just a coincidence that I was there.”

In the days that followed, the Oregonian staff published nine stories and prepared a special multimedia Web cast detailing the search for the James Kim family, which culminated in the discovery of the mother and daughters on Dec. 5 and the confirmed death of their husband and father three days later.

The staff worked in teams, allowing each member to bring his or her own strengths to the story. Anderson, known for covering crime and breaking news, stayed on scene the first three days of the search, reporting back to the newsroom and tracing the family’s whereabouts for the online broadcast.

Although he had limited access to the family, as searchers kept reporters away from the area, Anderson struggled with the emotional aspects of the story. “Finding the mother and daughters led to a lot of hope,” he explains. “I tried to be detached and objective, but it was hard not to think about all the folks affected.”

The search ended when James Kim was found dead. He had been wandering the snowy roads in search of help. The announcement shook up the whole Oregonian staff, Anderson says.

The following May, the reporters were astonished to learn that their coverage of the Kim family tragedy had won them the Pulitzer Prize. Cheers erupted and champagne corks went flying through the newsroom when the news flashed on a computer screen.

“One of our photographers took a picture of me getting a hug from the paper’s editor with a big, goofy smile on my face,” Anderson says. “I love that photo.”

The prize is a major professional milestone, Anderson says, but he doesn’t expect it to change his day-to-day work. He will continue to focus on city government and community news in Beaverton.

“It was a team effort and I am honored to be a part of that,” he says. “It’s just humbling to be recognized.”—Jena Vuylsteke