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Q&A Louise Kiernan

Professor, alumna, reporter: Louise Kiernan looks toward the future of journalism

Louise Kiernan won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting.

Louise Kiernan’s journalism career has taken her from the newsroom to the classroom and back again.

As an associate professor at Medill since 2010, Kiernan taught courses on investigative reporting, urban affairs and social issues journalism. A Northwestern alumna herself, Kiernan spent almost two decades at the Chicago Tribune, where she was the lead writer of a four-part series about air travel called “Gateway to Gridlock” that won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting. This month, Kiernan departs Northwestern to take up a new role as editor-in-chief of ProPublica Illinois. As she hangs up her professorial hat, amid a sea of end-of-quarter grading, Kiernan reflects on her work at Medill and the state of journalism today.

How will your years as a Medill professor inform your work at ProPublica?

My experience teaching gave me a sense of optimism about journalism, and I’m definitely bringing that to ProPublica. As a professor, I’ve been surrounded by talented, young, aspiring journalists every day. They’re optimistic and full of promise. That makes me hopeful about the future of journalism. 

Where do you think journalism stands today?

It’s been challenging, fascinating and ultimately inspiring to teach during the presidential campaign and through the election. I think this is a great time to be a journalist. I think what we do matters more than ever. Journalism is under attack in some corners, but I think there is also a renewed sense of appreciation for what role journalism plays in a democracy.

What advice would you give to a current or prospective Medill student who wants to win a Pulitzer some day?

Expose yourself to new ideas, new worlds and ways of thinking, both inside and outside of the classroom. I don’t think you should aspire to win a Pulitzer Prize, or any other award for that matter. Instead, strive to do your best work and challenge yourself.

What are you most looking forward to at ProPublica?

I’m excited for all of it. I have such a rare opportunity to build a team of journalists from the ground up, with the explicit mission of telling impactful stories in the public interest. I feel incredibly lucky that I get to be part of that at a time when it feels particularly important. 

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