Steve Levin 1973 is perhaps best known in the Asheville School community for his book, "Amid Rugged Mountains: The Asheville School Centennial History." Published in 1999, the comprehensive history of Asheville School paints a vivid picture of the school's eras and the triumphs and difficulties therein.
A journalist by trade, Levin has a passion for reporting and storytelling. Levin began writing for Asheville School's student newspaper, the Ashnoca, during his fourth form year. He continued this work in college, covering sports for the Daily Tar Heel at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
He has been working in journalism ever since, and in April 2018, Levin shared in a Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting.
The award went to the staff of The Press Democrat, the newspaper he works for in Santa Rosa, California, for coverage of the devastating fires that swept through the area in the fall of 2017.
According to the Pulitzer Prize Board, the staff of the Press Democrat won the award "for lucid and tenacious coverage of the historic wildfires that ravaged the city of Santa Rosa and Sonoma County, expertly utilizing an array of tools, including photography, video, and social media platforms, to bring clarity to its readers – in real time and in subsequent in-depth reporting."
A city editor for The Press Democrat, Levin says that the paper's staff banded together to provide their community with timely and correct information through the course and aftermath of the fires.
"The fires were actually in Santa Rosa, in the surrounding environs, and there was a lot of wrong information going out on the radio and from out of town papers," Levin said. "We became the go-to vehicle for anybody looking for information. People were tuning in to our website to get 'what areas are being evacuated,' 'where's the fire,' 'where's a safe place to go.'"
According to Levin, during the month of October, the 47,000-circulation newspaper's website had 78 million pageviews from over 5 million unique users.
At the height of the disaster, the staff was working upwards of 20 hours a day, providing a running timeline of updates. "It was just go, go, go," he recalled.
The staff was not insulated from the realities of the disaster. Many employees of the paper were evacuated from their homes and helped their families settle somewhere safe before returning to the newsroom to continue their coverage. Levin was out of his home for nine days.
"People were just going on adrenaline," he said. "The newsroom was full of smoke. Everybody had masks on. It was kind of like a disaster area. Downtown was empty; you could look out some of the windows and see smoke from the fires, you could actually see the backfires being lit to try to stop the encroaching flames."
Levin says that he and his colleagues were shocked when the announcement came in that they won the Pulitzer. The finalists included much larger organizations: the staff of The Houston Chronicle for their coverage of Hurricane Harvey and the staff of The New York Times for their coverage of the deadly 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting.
"When you're pressed hard, sometimes people freeze and sometimes people rise up," Levin said. "And the people who were able to really embrace it and not be overwhelmed by it—you know that was great to see, because it was a hard thing to be able to go out into the fires and see the kind of damage and the deaths. The reporters showed up; they did their job. It's a job they do every day—but in this case it was recognized."
Levin was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in 1990 when he was a member of the staff of the Dallas Morning News. He says that winning the prize now is an amazing feeling.
"I am a big Carolina fan," he said. "I can only equate it to screaming at a ball game, beating Duke. It was an amazing feeling because you never go into work thinking, 'let's win a Pulitzer.' Having been in the business for 40 years, it was just like, 'wow! That is so cool.'"
For young people interested in a career in journalism, Levin says "practice."
"I think you have to be incredibly curious and you have to know you want to drill down in everything," he said. "And that takes a natural curiosity and a real a need to know."
He also thanked his teachers from his Asheville School days for setting him up to take on his career: "You know I have to give a shout out to the school for the kind of training they gave me," Levin said. "Gene Legg, an English teacher in the fourth form, and Franklin Butler our senior year, and Sly Lewis our junior year. The school had a real focus on students being able to write coherently and cogently. And that was a big deal going forward."Join us in wishing Steve Levin congratulations on this accomplishment! Check out The Press Democrat's winning submission to the Pulitzer Prize Committee, the newspaper's announcement upon winning the award, and their full coverage of the wildfires.