BUCKHANNON, W.Va. – “Master of Disaster” may sound like the nickname of a professional wrestler or a mixed martial arts fighter, but veteran journalist and Pulitzer prize winner Mark Washburn has taken a different route to earn the moniker.
Washburn will speak at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 15 in the Culpepper Auditorium at West Virginia Wesleyan College as part of an alumni speaker series called “Voices of Distinction,” said Rochelle Long, director of communications.
Mark Washburn is a graduate of the class of 1975. He will share his journalistic journey in his talk “The Pharos Launches a Writer to a Life of Adventure.”
Washburn will also present to various classes on how to achieve success as alumni of the college.
“I liked Wesleyan so much, it took five years to get my degree,” Washburn said.
He was editor of the Wesleyan Pharos in 1974, when it was listed among the nation’s top 20 weekly campus papers. At the time, Bob Skinner, class of 1975 and current vice president for advancement at Wesleyan, was sports editor.
One of Washburn’s first jobs was at the local paper. He moved on to the Charleston Gazette and later to newspapers in North Carolina and Florida.
“At the Miami Herald, I rose to be state editor in charge of coverage throughout Florida, the nation’s weirdest state,” Washburn said.
At the Miami Herald, part of the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain, he became known as the company’s “master of disaster” for his coverage of everything from hurricanes to plane crashes, Long said.
Washburn said he covered more hurricanes than he can count and was dispatched to company papers when they were in crisis and needed support.
He was part of three Knight-Ridder staff projects that won the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service: Hurricane Andrew at the Miami Herald in 1993, the Grand Forks Herald in North Dakota for the Red River Flood in 1997 and the Biloxi Sun Herald for Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
He covered the “Miracle on the Hudson” crash of a U.S. Airways jetliner off Manhattan in 2009 and helped get “Crazy Joe” Spaziano off death row in Florida for a murder he could not have possibly committed, just days before he was due for a date with the electric chair.
The Voice of Distinction Series is free and open to the public. A reception will immediately follow in the lobby of the Virginia Thomas Law Center for the Performing Arts.