An Indian-American journalist, Usha Lee McFarling, is part of a Los Angeles Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting. "I never realised I would reach such a level of journalistic accomplishment," said McFarling. "I don’t know what to say. I’m thrilled." McFarling worked for six months on the five-part series "Altered Waters," seconding lead author Ken Weiss.
Pulitzers are considered the highest professional award in US journalism. The award will be formally presented in New York City on May 21.
Ironically, McFarling, whose mother is from Punjab, retired from journalism last August after the birth of her second child. "I plan to return to journalism once my baby is one-year-old. I am trying to blend family and work."
"My mother and her family came to the US mainly to go to college and then stayed on," says McFarling. "However, my oldest masi [aunt] heads the Institute of Home Economics in Delhi and I spent six months in her college. I can claim to have lived like an Indian girl."
Many of her family are physicians. "They were skeptical when I chose to be a journalist. Now that I’ve won a Pulitzer, of course, the family is happy."
McFarling notes a lot more Indian names can be seen in US journalism these days. "Children of immigrants are expected to seek careers that ensure success and security. But increasingly they do what they want."
A previous Pulitzer-winner of Indian origin, Geeta Anand of the Wall Street Journal, was McFarling’s colleague years ago at the Boston Globe.
Her award-winning articles, she says, were both depressing and exhilarating. The former because they described how pollution, overfishing and sewage were slowly but surely destroying the world’s oceans, "probably irreversibly."
The latter because it was journalism at its most comprehensive and professional. "It was amazing that the newspaper supported us to such an extent. The photographers went around the world. The designers were incredible," she says. The idea was originally Weiss’s, who spent a year on the project.
For now, McFarling’s priority are her children. "Though my children are only a quarter Indian, I want them to learn about their heritage," she says. Her oldest child Phoebe carries the middle name Kalpana. However, journalism beckons. "But the Pulitzer allows me to take leave on a high note."