'Investigative journalism really matters,' says Pulitzer Prize winner from Calgary

Susanne Craig, who won a Pulitzer Prize for her investigation of U.S. President Donald Trump's wealth, reflects on her start at the University of Calgary student paper, investigating Trump and working for the New York Times.

Susanne Craig reflects on her start at U of C's student paper, investigating Trump and working for the NYT

Susanne Craig is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at the New York Times who got her start at the University of Calgary's student-run newspaper, the Gauntlet. She's in Calgary this week to speak at an alumni event. (Earl Wilson/The New York Times)

When Susanne Craig was a political science student at the University of Calgary, she initially began writing for the Gauntlet, an independent, student-run newspaper, to score free tickets to shows.  

"My favourite ticket ... was dinner theater, because you got a show and you got food, and I didn't have a lot of money," Craig said Friday on the Calgary Eyeopener.

Those beginnings at the Gauntlet sparked a passion for journalism that would propel Craig to a Pulitzer Prize-winning career at the New York Times.

"I kind of knew pretty quickly when I got to the Gauntlet that I just wanted to be a journalist. I had no clue, and could never even imagine, that it would end up at the New York Times," Craig said.

"I just fell in love with journalism ... and I haven't stopped since."

Susanne Craig looks through issues of the Gauntlet during a visit to its office on Thursday. (Kristy Koehler/The Gauntlet)

'You never know what you're going to be doing'

Craig continued to develop her journalism skills with summer internships at the Calgary Herald and the Windsor Star. The latter led to a full-time gig.

After four years, she says, she decided to try Toronto's media market, and took a one-month contract with the Financial Post.

It introduced what Craig describes as a "lifelong journey" covering business, and she continued to vary her career experience by writing for papers, including the Globe and Mail and the Wall Street Journal, where she extensively covered the 2007-08 financial crisis. 

In 2010, Craig landed a job at the New York Times, and according to her NYT biography, has since "produced in-depth articles on a wide range of subjects" including Wall Street and "state-house corruption." 

Craig says she had been covering municipal politics for the Times when she was assigned to a different story in 2016 that would change her career.

"I was sitting down at city hall covering the mayor, and I got called out for two weeks to do a story on Donald Trump. And I never went back to city hall," Craig said.

"One of the wonders of journalism is you never know what you're going to be doing."

'Investigative journalism really matters'

Craig's coverage of Trump would eventually include investigative pieces that exposed tax avoidance and disproved Trump's claims of "self-made wealth" by exposing that he had received more than $400 million from his father.

The extensive investigation took 18 months and was published last October.

In April 2019, it won the Pulitzer Prize for Craig and two of her colleagues, David Barstow and Russ Buettner.

Craig says their award-winning reporting was accomplished alongside tremendous solidarity and support from the Times.

"It was a production," Craig said. "It was like when you think about Broadway in New York.… It was that many people standing behind us, supporting us, from the Sulzberger family that owns the New York Times to everybody you know in the building."

Reporting on Trump's finances has been a lesson for her, Craig says, in the value of investigative journalism.

"One of the things that really has just stayed with me … [is] that investigative journalism really matters," she says. "Digging into things, and uncovering things, and sticking with a story even when it may be inconvenient."

'Great trip down memory lane'

Earlier this week, she paid a visit to the Gauntlet, where she found her start. 

"It was a great trip down memory lane, but also just a really sharp reminder to me of the importance of independent press," Craig said.

"The enthusiasm there just also reminded me … you may not end up in journalism, but it's a great view … of how newspapers work, and just an education. And how important they are."

Craig will pass on more of what she's learned on Saturday, when she returns to the University of Calgary as a speaker at a sold-out alumni weekend event

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.