How did you get into investigative journalism?
My whole life, I’ve loved writing. Writing, like running, is an escape—a simple, free, solo escape.
I was one of four girls, and we always lived on prison grounds. Our dad was a prison warden. So there was lots to write about, and to escape from.
I wanted to be a heart surgeon, when I went to college (University of Florida). But I quickly realized the math was too hard! I followed my love of writing and never looked back.
I love to even the scales between the powerful and the powerless.
For almost 30 years, I’ve covered local government and news. Hurricanes, murders, elections, corruption, development, traffic, politics, and now, the pandemic. I witnessed a Death Row killer’s execution. I interviewed the murderer of a little girl, when I discovered him living in a city park. I’ve met many “important” people. But even more, I’ve enjoyed meeting everyday people and hearing their stories.
I love to help the underdog. I love to capture the essence of a person’s life in an obituary. I love to even the scales between the powerful and the powerless.
When the Parkland shooting occurred in 2018, 20 miles from our newsroom, I shifted to the investigative team. Ultimately, our team won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.
Left: To share in a Pulitzer Prize for covering the Parkland school shooting was bittersweet (photo: Susan Stocker). Right: At the end of January, before pandemic panic, the Speaker of the House visited our newsroom. Whatever your politics are, Nancy Pelosi is an impressive woman (photo: Amy Beth Bennett).
What are three tips you’d give to anyone considering this job?
- It’s not about the money. If you love what you’re writing about, you don’t need to climb any ladder to success. You’re already there.
- Call it like you see it. Good journalism is fearless and honest - it pulls no punches, and does no favors.
- You’re only as good as your last story. Never give less than your best.
Running is like flying. It's freedom.
How does running connect with your job in journalism?
I pour myself into running. I look for beautiful scenes, and stop to Tweet them every morning (@BrittanyWallman). I work on stories in my mind. I think about interviews I’ve had, or need to have. I have eureka moments. I pray. I have runner’s high. I have runner’s low.
Running has carried me through all kinds of ups and downs. If I didn’t have it, I can’t imagine what addiction could replace it - certainly nothing positive! (Non-stop eating of Doritos comes to mind.)
As I approached turning 50, I signed up for the Chicago Marathon and got in by lottery. A few months later, 17 people were killed in the Parkland high school shooting. I knew it was going to be a rough year, and I was grateful to have something healthy and life-affirming to balance with my work life.
The marathon itself was incredible, and when I reached 13.1 miles, I remember feeling a little sad that half the miles were behind me now. When I crossed that finish line, the first thought that popped into my mind - strangely - was the Parkland shooting. It struck me that most of my training I’d spent thinking about it. I felt like I’d carried something really heavy all those miles, and I could symbolically lay it down on the finish line. Tears flowed, and a stranger hugged me.
On a smaller scale, running does that for me every day, allowing me to lay down my cares, worries, or problems, at the end of the run.
One of my favorite run mantras is “this is the best part of my day.” It is!
One last thing: I’ve always been able to fly in my dreams - it’s slow, like how you’d use your arms as wings to come up from the bottom of a swimming pool. Running is like flying. It’s freedom.
Q & A
If you could pick up a new skill in an instant, what would it be? The ability to remember peoples’ names. In my ideal world, everyone would wear name tags.
What was your first job? I was a lifeguard and swim instructor, who should have worn more sunscreen.
Do you have any phobias you’d like to break? My only big fear is of boredom.
What is your favorite workout or length of run? I love an 8 mile easy run - it’s enough time to get lost in your thoughts and push your body past the comfort zone.