UK graduate chosen as new administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes

Bailey Vandiver

A UK graduate has been chosen as administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes.

Journalist and author Dana Canedy is leaving “The New York Times,” where she began working in 1996.

She graduated with a journalism degree in 1988 after growing up a UK fan— though she admits once letting UK basketball tickets go unused so she could study instead.

Canedy is no stranger to the Pulitzer Prizes. She was a lead journalist in the series, “How Race is Lived in America,” which won the National Reporting Pulitzer Prize in 2001.

Now, she will be on the other side of the process, working to administer the awards from Columbia University. She is both the first woman and the first African-American in this role.

‘Journalism bug bit’

Canedy said she knew she wanted to be a writer when she was 12 years old. Several years later, she had chosen journalism as a major and was on her way to UK, the home of the best journalism program in the state in her opinion.

It was during her first semester there that she fell “madly in love” with journalism.

She reported for and became editor-in-chief of “The Communicator,” a minority student newspaper.

“I knew I wanted to write, but that’s where the journalism bug bit,” Canedy said.

Canedy said her UK journalism professors were amazing, both in the classroom and in supporting the students outside the classroom. She remembered a professor once driving her and her classmates to an out-of-town journalism conference.

Canedy said one of her “main sources of strength” at UK was the Office of Minority Affairs. She said she could visit that office whenever she felt isolated on a campus that had very few minority students at the time.

Canedy said she often tells students that no matter what their craft is, they must put in the work to master the basics. Several internships while at UK and her first job after graduation helped her learn her craft, she said.

“UK really prepared me for the arc of my career,” Canedy said.

‘A writer in New York City’

In high school, Canedy wrote in a memory book that she would be a writer in New York City within 10 years.

It was more than 10 years later, but a writer in New York City she became.

When she started reporting for “The New York Times,” she said she started over as a trainee.

“I learned how to become not a journalist… but a New York Times journalist, which is a different animal,” she said.

During her career there, she oversaw talent acquisition, management training and career development and diversity initiatives. She also served as a senior editor.

“I can’t even tell you how many times I walked into ‘The New York Times’ on a big day and said, ‘I cannot believe I’m getting paid to do this,’” she said.

She said being a Kentucky native in New York City gave her a fresh set of eyes, which is an advantage for a journalist. She said being from Kentucky has brought her “only advantages” in her career.

Canedy is not only a journalist but a published author.

Her partner, First Sergeant Charles Monroe King, was killed in 2006 while serving in the Iraq War. He left behind a journal for his and Canedy’s infant son, Jordan.

Canedy wrote a memoir based on this journal, titled “A Journal for Jordan.”

“It’s the book that I never wanted to have to write,” Canedy said.

The memoir is in the process of being made into a movie, though Canedy said she is not starstruck by Hollywood.

“I’m very humbly proud of this because that means more people are going to know about my Charles,” she said.

The memoir, which is in 10 countries and 8 languages, resonates with many because it represents what life is truly like for military families during wartime.

Canedy said she will write more books in the future.

“I have more books in me,” she said.

‘Celebrate journalism’

Canedy began her duties as prize administrator on July 17. She said she spent her first week on the job “basically interviewing” Mike Pride, her predecessor.

She said her day-to-day responsibilities vary depending on where the organization is in the application and awarding process. The prizes are awarded in April each year.

She plans to spend the next several months becoming an expert on the rules and regulations of the Pulitzer Prizes.

Canedy said she and the board are interested in further evolution of some regulations as well as increased diversification of the jury pools.

In a time when freedom of the press and the First Amendment are “pretty under siege,” the Pulitzer Prize organization can work to uplift and support them, Canedy said.

“What I am excited about is that I’m now in a role where my sole purpose is to celebrate journalism,” she said.

“Doubt your limits”

Canedy said that part of learning your craft is gaining confidence —  which starts in college and continues for years afterward.

She said that everybody feels insecure, but it is important to push through insecurity.

“Some of the biggest breakthroughs in your career and in your life will come because you pushed through fear,” Canedy said. “I have found that over and over to be true.”

She said her son Jordan has a sign hanging up in his bathroom.

“If you are going to doubt something,” it reads, “doubt your limits.”