Award-winning alumna addresses Univ.

Michael Lucarz

Diana K. Sugg ’87 awaited her introduction Wednesday afternoon, calm and collected before facing the mass of students and faculty gathered inside 3010 Bartley Hall.

Almost one year ago today, Sugg readied herself for a much different presentation at Columbia University when she was awarded journalism’s highest honor – the 2003 Pulitzer Prize in Beat Reporting.

“I want to talk to students about the things I know now that I wish I knew here,” said Sugg, 38, who spoke at the University Wednesday.

The journalist had come full circle, returning to Villanova and the intimate company of students who feel the reflected glow of her honor and the professors who helped foster her own passion for writing.

Sugg’s dedication to her craft and her desire to encourage students to pursue their passions served as the focal points of the discussion, as Sugg shared the untold stories of a beat reporter, the intangibles that don’t always make it onto the front page.

“Curiosity is one of the best traits to have as a writer,” Sugg said. “The sad reality is that ideas and phrases are like butterflies or fireflies; they’re ephemeral. If you don’t get them down, they just go away.”

Sugg has come a long way from her days as editor-in-chief of the Villanovan, honing her skills at the Poynter Institute for Journalism before earning an M.A. in journalism from Ohio State University in 1992.

Her career led her from the AP wires of Philadelphia to the Herald-Journal in Spartanburg, S.C. and then to the Sacramento Bee where Sugg served as a beat crime reporter.

In 1995 she joined the Baltimore Sun as a health reporter and gained national recognition for the profound sense of humanity and vitality that shone through even the most somber stories of still-births and struggles in the emergency room.

“You have to be aggressive enough to go for it and bold enough to write it, but most of all, you need to be human enough to do it,” Sugg said when asked about the inherent difficulty of certain assignments.

“I’ve been able to survive in journalism even though I am very sensitive,” the Villanova alum said. “But, then again, you find that almost everybody else it sensitive, too.”

Sugg related personal anecdotes with an extraordinary sense of compassion, reliving moments of tragedy in which doctors broke bleak news to family members and mothers kissed their stillborn children for the first and last time.

One of the most important questions she told the students attending the workshops to ask was “Is there anything I haven’t asked that I should have?” According to Sugg, that can allow the person being interviewed to open up.

Even as she spoke, Sugg’s perseverance in “honing stories down to their beautiful edges” became vividly clear, with each account reaffirming her own dedication to the aesthetics and inner workings of the medical community.

Whether Sugg recounted visits to poverty-ridden neighborhoods in South Carolina or the self-doubt she experienced while milling over difficult stories, her ability to relate to others was always the underlying idea. “Everybody has a soul, a landscape, a terrain,” Sugg said. “There are a lot of stories everyone can write, but only a few that only you can write.”

Sugg conducted a workshop for journalism and writing students at 4:30 p.m. and gave a presentation to an open audience at 6:30 p.m. She repeatedly stressed the need to be kind and fair.

“Not being a know-it-all is very helpful,” she said. “When you’re a know-it-all, people can tell.”