We’ll always wonder why. But, for Matthew Sturdevant ’97 the story of Newtown, Conn., is about how. How will the community repair itself?
Sturdevant, a journalist who has essentially been embedded since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary,
is telling that story.
“My task has always been to follow the people,” says Sturdevant who, along with other members of the staff of the Hartford Courant, is a runner up for the Pulitzer Prize.
By following and by listening, Sturdevant has uncovered touching stories behind tattoos, a very special animal sanctuary and other tributes to people lost in the infamous shooting Dec. 14. They are now a part of Sturdevant’s own story, the unlikely tale of a psychology and business major who almost became a potato farmer.
Sturdevant struggled academically and financially at Oswego, working toward two degrees while pulling endless shifts in the dining hall. A roommate—a communication studies major—planted the seed of journalism, and Matthew discovered his gift for storytelling post-grad as he sampled various jobs and traveled the east coast.
A lover of the outdoors, Sturdevant spent five summers as a guide at a Boy Scouts of America High Adventure base in Maine during and after college. He returned to the city of Oswego for a time as a therapy aide in the mental health wing of Oswego Hospital.
“No question, working with people at such an acutely sensitive time in their lives helped me in journalism,” he says, a fact born out when the Pulitzer committee commended the Hartford Courant staff for its sensitivity in handling coverage in Newtown.
While living in northern Maine, Sturdevant applied for a job at a weekly in rural Caribou, where he, with help from textbooks provided by his editor, essentially taught himself the skills of journalism.
“If it hadn’t worked out being a reporter those few days, I would have been harvesting potatoes,” Sturdevant recalls.
But, it did work out. And Sturdevant developed a talent for digging deep for stories. He initiated a “Not Forgotten” series at the Glens Falls Post Star that became almost a tutorial in how to handle sensitive topics. Each week, he would choose sparse obituaries, call the relatives for information, and craft proper tributes to the deceased.
Since arriving nearly four years ago at the Hartford Courant after stints at the Caller-Times in Corpus Christi, Texas, and the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., Sturdevant has again employed his Oswego experience as a business reporter and blogger.
But, when not covering health care, insurance and business, he’s often called to journalism’s front line of breaking news, the Boston Marathon bombing and Superstorm Sandy among them.
His most difficult assignment to date, though, he’s still working on: the stories of all the survivors, those children with lifetimes left to live.
“Once the basics of the story have been told, it’s really the story of how this town is coping,” he says. “The rest of the world may have moved on, but in Connecticut, especially in Newtown, they’ll be talking about this for decades.”
—Shane M. Liebler