Political Science / Pan-African Studies alum wins Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting
Phillip M. Bailey won the Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. Photo provided by The Courier Journal.
By Caitlin Brooks
“I told you you were going to win the Pulitzer.”
Phillip M. Bailey (’07) was in disbelief when his former coworker texted him those words last May. He had to check the official Twitter account for Pulitzer Prizes to prove to himself it was true.
And it was.
In May, the Courier Journal received the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news for its investigative reporting of more than 600 pardons and commutations that former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin issued during his final weeks in office. Bailey worked on two of the stories that led to the Pulitzer, often cited as the highest achievement in journalism.
“To know that your individual work contributed to that win is an incredible feeling,” Bailey said. “Even just being a Pulitzer nominee is incredible, so it is truly an honor to be in this club of people, from Ida B. Wells to Kendrick Lamar.”
Bailey launched his journalism career at UofL, writing op-eds for The Cardinal, the university’s student newspaper, as well as an independent black student newspaper on campus. He was a political science major, Pan-African Studies minor, McConnell Scholar, Porter Scholar and a self-described “rabble-rouser” during his time on campus.
“UofL was my training ground for coalition politics and life,” Bailey said. “There were people from all walks of life and all kinds of different backgrounds there. So, I learned how to come together and make decisions when there were those who don’t always agree, whether it was through student government, writing op-eds, philanthropic work or protests.”
Bailey remembers meeting other students who came to UofL and noted the importance of a diverse campus.
“You’re going to have to know how to deal with people who aren’t exactly like you in life. Whether you meet someone who is gender non-binary or a Christian conservative, it is so important for everyone to have encounters with different people, especially in a country as increasingly diverse as ours,” Bailey said. “UofL is in the major metropolitan city in the state, so you get that diversity there.
“I also learned how important it is to give voices to all groups of people, so everyone’s best interests are represented, like having the student government president on the board of trustees. That’s what UofL taught me.”
Bailey, a comic book fan, sees a link between superheroes and journalists, which drives his passion for his career.
“There are two ways heroes define themselves and I think journalists do, too. There’s the superman mantra – to protect the innocent – and the Batman mantra – to punish the guilty,” Bailey said. “Journalism is the place where regular people are able to challenge those in power and hold institutions accountable in order to protect the innocent and punish the guilty.”
Bailey recently began a new job as a national correspondent for USA Today. He’ll still be based in Louisville, but will be covering issues across the country. He’s grateful to be staying in the city that has so far helped him establish a successful career.
“I’m proudest because I haven’t had to leave Louisville. If you’re talented and do the work, the bag will come to you,” Bailey said. “I don’t need to live in the suburbs or move to Atlanta or New York. You can be excellent right here.”