Special correspondent for the Associated Press wins Pulliam writing award

Topic: College of Communication Information and Media

April 14, 2010

Helen O'Neill, special correspondent with the Associated Press (AP), has won Ball State University's 2010 Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Writing Award for her article "One Man's Journey."

Published on April 4, 2009, O'Neill's award-winning article chronicles a former Ku Klux Klan supporter's hate-filled past and his search for forgiveness and redemption. O'Neill will be recognized April 21 at the Department of Journalism's annual awards luncheon. She also will speak about her story in a speech titled "A Writer's Journey: Lessons Along the Way," at 7:30 p.m. April 21 in L.A. Pittenger Student Center's Cardinal Hall. The event is free and open to the public as part of the journalism department's Professional-in-Residence series.

O'Neill's article focused on Elwin Wilson, who, as a young man in South Carolina, boasted about his racism and his assault of Freedom Riders and civil rights activists, notably John Lewis, now a congressman from Atlanta. As an older man in his 70s, beset by diabetes and other ailments, Wilson confronted his own mortality and lingering guilt and remorse. O'Neill was fascinated by Wilson's public apologies to Lewis and others.

Judges called O'Neill's story a compelling, expertly written retrospective of this "sad, sickly man haunted by time." They noted her remarkable use of description and judicious use of details and pay tribute to her significant skills as a reporter and writer.

O'Neill is a native of Dublin, Ireland, where she earned a bachelor's degree in history, politics and French, and a master's degree in politics. Before joining the AP in 1996, O'Neill spent 10 years as a reporter for newspapers in Connecticut, including the Hartford Courant. In her years with the AP, she has won several national feature-writing awards, including the Scripps Howard Foundation's Ernie Pyle Award, National Headliner and American Society of Newspaper Editors awards, among many others. In 2001, O'Neill was named an AP special correspondent, an honor bestowed on only 22 people in the 162-year history of the news service.

In recognition of winning the award, O'Neill will receive a plaque and a $1,500 prize, presented on behalf of the Pulliam family, who sponsor the annual writing award, administered by the Department of Journalism. The competition, which dates back to 1960, has a distinguished history and legacy. Three former winners of the prestigious award have later won Pulitzer Prizes.

By Gail Werner

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