In case you’re unfamiliar with the Penn State case, we’ll keep it short for you since it’s pretty disturbing: Former assistant Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky was charged with a whopping 52 sex crimes involving 10 young boys. (For his part, Sandusky is saying he’s not guilty.) Since Sandusky was a local hero in the Penn State area, there had been a few whispers about his inappropriate behavior with young boys, but most people just didn’t believe it–picture your favorite teacher getting arrested, then multiply that feeling by about a zillion.
Sara Ganim wasn’t so quick to laugh off that particularly damaging brand of gossip. The longtime journalist (she started at her school paper when she was a sophomore!) began investigating hardcore. She started covering the scandal in 2009 after hearing an offhand remark–way before it became a national story. Sara had recently graduated from Penn State, so she was familiar with its football program and with the characters involved. Something unique that Sara did for her article is something you may well do everyday: she used the Penn State university message boards to round up her sources. Smart girl!
Sara kept working at her story after getting hired by the The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 2011, going as far as knocking on doors to score interviews with anyone who may have had an inkling on the case, including the victims. Sara got a lot of heat for reporting the story (a lot of it was written off as gossip)–until Sandusky was finally arrested seven months later. Sara beat ESPN and other major news outlets in reporting the horrifying crimes.
In November, Sara’s continued reporting led to the university ousting head coach Joe Paterno and president Graham Spanier amidst allegations that both men had known about Sandusky abusing boys, but that they didn’t do anything about it. This led to scary riots on campus and widespread outrage. Her reporting also sparked investigations of child molestation at the Citadel and Syracuse University. Her work may have saved others from the horrors and trauma of sexual abuse. She plans on covering the case further when Sandusky goes to trial this June.
At just 24 years old, Sara Ganim went from breaking news to making news. She’s now one of the youngest Pulitzer Prize winners ever, and the youngest ever to take home the Sidney Award for socially conscious journalism. We’re glad that we’re finally not just hearing from Sara Ganim, but also about Sara Ganim–because she deserves it!
Did you follow the Penn State scandal? Do you look up to Sara Ganim? Do you write for your own school paper? Are you gunning for a Pulitzer of your own someday? Let us know in the comments!