Alumni Merit Award: David T. Barstow (J86)
David Barstow has received some pretty remarkable recognition for his professional achievements. Three Pulitzer Prizes, after all, indicate a journalist is more than worth his salt. But where does the veteran New York Times reporter derive the most satisfaction? For that, you’ll have to look past his awards.
“There is an old saying in journalism that a newspaper’s mission is to ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,’ ” Barstow says. “I’m proudest of the work I’ve done that reflects the spirit of those words, especially articles that gave voice to the voiceless — be it a prison inmate denied decent medical care or a blue-collar worker denied the most basic safety equipment.”
Indeed, the stories for which Barstow was feted with journalism’s highest honor reflect those values. He won the 2004 Pulitzer for public service reporting for a piece that delved into workplace deaths and injuries and exposed employers who broke safety rules. He also produced a documentary on his reporting for the PBS series Frontline and won the DuPont Silver Baton.
In 2009, he won the Pulitzer in investigative reporting for an article on how some retired generals—as radio and TV analysts—helped the Pentagon make its case for war with Iraq, even though many had ties to companies that would benefit from the conflict. And just this year, he again received the Pulitzer in investigative reporting for his work on stories about Wal-Mart using bribery to dominate the market in Mexico.
Recently, he participated in the Times’ coverage of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
Barstow, who cut his journalistic teeth at the Rochester Times-Union in New York and the St. Petersburg Times in Florida, credits Northwestern for shaping his life and career. Medill equipped him with skills while also helping him make contacts and land his first job in the industry. And one particular class on media law and ethics resonates with him still.
“In 24 years of reporting, I have found myself repeatedly drawing on lessons I first learned from Professor David Protess,” he notes.
Barstow also had a good deal of fun as a Northwestern student, even meeting his wife, Debbie, on a semester abroad in Ireland. Another fond memory was his first Northwestern football game, which happened to be the game in 1982 when the Wildcats snapped their infamous 34-game losing streak. He joined the elated throng that tore down the goalposts after the final gun and carried them to Lake Michigan.
David and Debbie Barstow live in Glen Ridge, New Jersey. They have two children, including a son, Dylan, who is a student at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.
Published on October 27, 2010. Updated on April 18, 2013.