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Jose Antonio Vargas: Pulitzer Prize winner

April 10, 2008 4:08pm
WASHINGTON, D.C. — A very young and Internet savvy Filipino American, Jose Antonio Vargas has at 27, won the Pulitzer Prize in the breaking news category.

He shares this award with other Washington Post reporters for a package of nine stories, two of which he wrote. His feet hardly touched the ground as he was interviewed at the Washington Post a couple of hours after the awards were announced in this US capital Monday.

An elated Vargas said, “This is great!" and “This is a happy day!" He was also happy for the paper, saying the ‘Post’ “won six Pulitzers, the most it has won in one year." Vargas wrote two front page stories on the April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

“I was lucky to get an interview with one of the eyewitnesses," he recalled. “I found this eyewitness on facebook.com. I got him on the phone, we talked for about 25 minutes, and he was the only eyewitness we had on the story, so it was a critical part of it."

Another story he wore was on how the Virginia Tech students were using the Internet “to let each other know what was going on, because it was chaotic" at that time. He said he got the news over the phone Sunday from his editor, but he was not supposed to tell anybody at that point.

Vargas joined the Post in 2004, two days after graduating from the San Francisco State University in California. He had interned at the paper in 2003 while still a student. He was asked to write for the Style Section at first, and he wrote about Cristeta Comerford, the first woman and first FilAm White House executive chef.

He said he was proud he won the Pulitzer as part of the team from ‘Post,’ the paper that “had toppled a president."

“This is a paper that has always been about reporting and writing, and letting reporters be who they are" and allowing reporters to follow their interests. “I’ve been here three years, and I’ve written about video games, HIV needs in Washington, and now, political reporting."

He turned very emotional when he talked about relatives who raised him. He thanked his Lola Leoning, Leonila Salinas, who brought him up in Mountain View, California, together with her husband Ted, and his Uncle Roland. Vargas, born in Antipolo, came to the U.S. when he was 12.

When his grandpa died, he said his Lola Leoning was very worried about him, and wanted him only the best for him.

“I love her very, very, very much," he said of his grandma. ‘ I wish she could understand what this means. She wanted me to be an accountant, an engineer or a doctor, something like that."

“Now that I’m covering the presidential campaign, and appearing on CNN and MSNBC, she thinks I’m a real reporter," he added.

He also cited the principal and superintendent at Mountain View High School, “who were like second parents to me." They helped him get a scholarship from a venture capitalist who financed his college studies.

He said nobody wins an award by himself, and also credited his mentors, including Leslie Guevarra at San Francisco Chronicle, where he also worked after writing for the ‘Mountain View Voice.’ Vargas, stood behind the mural that showed photos of the team that toppled President Richard Nixon over Watergate – the legendary editor Ben Bradlee and reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward.

Families of winners were seen going to the party upstairs. Vargas is single, and still only 27. Community leader Maurese Owens said, when told of the news during an event here the same day: “Now that he has won the Pulitzer, I wonder how it’s going to be for him."

Vargas will always have a reason for getting up in the morning, gobbling breakfast and bolting excitedly the door. “This has always been a passion of mine, since I started writing at 17," he said, beaming. - Philippine News