John Muyskens ’15 is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the age of 23. Muyskens, a graphic editor at The Washington Post, was part of a team of reporters and editors honored with the Pulitzer Prize in the National Reporting category. The team was honored “for its revelatory initiative in creating and using a national database to illustrate how often and why the police shoot to kill and who the victims are most likely to be.”
Muyskens said: “After the events of Ferguson in 2014, what many realized, including journalists at the Post and the government, is there was no good data set about people who are shot and killed by police, and so out of that grew an initiative at the Post to start collecting that [data].”
In January 2015, the project got under way with researchers at the Post entering data related to fatal shootings by police into a spreadsheet. As more and more information was uncovered, the scope of the project grew, and the Post staff recognized the need to transition from a shareable spreadsheet to a database. That’s where Muyskens stepped up.
He was tasked with building the database, which has provided the Post newsroom with access to great volumes of data, organized in such a way to make it much easier for reporters and editors to do statistical analyses on the results and in turn discover the stories behind the data.
“We are able to have reporters look through our database, find interesting stories and then go out and report those stories more in depth. That’s what you read in the many stories that we did based on the database,” said Muyskens.
David Fallis, an editor at the Post, says the work that Muyskens did in creating the database was critical “because he took the broad concepts of what we needed and made them a reality.”
“The database he constructed served us on multiple levels: It gave us a platform to gather and analyze the data and a public interface to share what we found,” said Fallis. “It was brilliant work and he engineered it so that we could continue to build on it as reporting took us in new directions. We continue to use it today and will as long as we pursue the project.”