The Society of Silurians, the nation’s oldest press club, has chosen Megan Cerullo, Class of 2016, to receive the Dennis Duggan Prize. The prize is given annually to a CUNY J-School student who has done outstanding work in covering ordinary New Yorkers. The award, to be presented at a dinner on May 18, comes with a $1,000 honorarium.
Duggan, a columnist at Newsday, specialized in stories about ordinary people – teachers, cops, firefighters, shopkeepers – that captured their spirit and dignity. He died in 2006, just when the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism was launching. Soon afterward, the Silurians established the annual award in his name.
Cerullo is drawn to the same specialty that fascinated Duggan, said Prof. Tim Harper. “Although this J-School class has a bumper crop of people who have done good local reporting,” he said, “it’s hard to find anyone who has done more good reporting — and gotten more published — about everyday people.”
A native of Brooklyn Heights, she chose a Bronx neighborhood as her Craft of Reporting beat: the Belmont section that includes Arthur Avenue. “I wanted to profile the lingering community of Italians,” said Cerullo, who studied romance languages as an undergraduate at Brown University.
Scooping the competition, she covered the threatened cancellation of the Arthur Avenue Christmas tree lighting, an event that draws a crowd — and brings shoppers to local merchants — every holiday season. Subsequently, City Councilman Ritchie Torres came up with the funds to restore the tradition.
Another Bronx tale profiled a graduate of the borough’s CitySquash program, a nonprofit that teaches the sport – and offers college-prep support – to local youngsters from low-income households. A former varsity squash player, Cerullo says she was eager to write about the program because it democratizes a sport traditionally played at “private clubs with membership fees or elite boarding schools and colleges.”
Looking beyond the Bronx, Cerullo found other “ordinary” stories. A curtain-raiser for DNAinfo about Macy’s famous holiday window displays took readers to industrial Brooklyn, where carpenters, artists and engineers raced the clock to create the magic on 34th Street. A story on the city’s bike-lane expansion took her to the Lower East Side, where some elderly residents see the new lanes as a safety threat.
Before entering J-School, Cerullo was an intern at Conde Nast and a reporter at The Vineyard Gazette, where she profiled local islanders as well as summer vacationers. She also freelanced for the Brooklyn Daily Eagle and the Brooklyn-based Brownstoner.
Specializing in business and economics reporting at the J-School, she will intern this summer at the New York Daily News.
Previous Duggan Prize winners are Cole Rosengren (’15), Rosa Goldensohn (’14), Irina Ivanova (’13), Jane Teeling (’12), Patrick Wall (’11), Simone Sebastian (’10), Emily Feldman (’09), Barry Paddock (’08) and Danny Massey (’07).