UT Journalism alumna discusses road to becoming a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist

Mikaela Cannizzo

Lisa Falkenberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for the Houston Chronicle, said she encountered many failures as a beginning reporter such as misattributing a quote while working for The Daily Texan, but she said she learned from her mistakes and encouraged aspiring journalists to do the same.

“Failure can lead to success, but it’s a scenic route,” Falkenberg said. “The best stories are on the scenic routes anyway.”

Falkenberg said in a lecture Wednesday afternoon that she was once a hesitant journalist who was afraid to pick up the phone. But this year, her groundbreaking commentary on the grand jury system’s manipulation in a murder case helped her realize that her job could uncover injustice within systems.

“Our important role is to be a voice to the voiceless and root out corruption when nobody else cares enough about an issue to shine some light on it,” Falkenberg said. “The story is the most powerful tool of persuasion that exists anywhere.”

While Falkenberg said anyone can tell an interesting story, she said it is the journalist’s responsibility to make sure a story is told correctly.

“Corporations are starting to use the power of stories,” Falkenberg said. “But without journalists, how do we know we can trust that?”

Journalism junior Emanuela Schneider said she was inspired by Falkenberg’s discussion on the impact journalism can have on the lives of others.

“I just assumed journalism was writing about anything and expressing yourself,” Schneider said. “I never really thought about how much it can actually affect someone in terms of whether someone goes to prison or not.”  

Despite receiving hate mail and being criticized for her opinions, Falkenberg said she has developed a thick skin through her job as a columnist.

Falkenberg’s talk was part of the Mary Alice Davis lecture series, which honors the late Davis and her work as a columnist and editorial writer for the Austin American-Statesman by bringing prominent journalists to speak at UT once a year in the fall.

R.B. Brenner, director of the UT School of Journalism, said he invited Falkenberg to speak at this year’s lecture because of her leadership in the industry and status as a graduate of the journalism school. 

“There’s nothing more inspiring than for our current students to see someone who graduated from this very school have such an impactful career in journalism and be honored with journalism’s top prize,” Brenner said.