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Knudson, Thomas Jeffrey "Tom"

Published onAug 20, 2021
Knudson, Thomas Jeffrey "Tom"

(July 6, 1953 — )

Quick Facts

Alumnus Thomas J. Knudson is one of Iowa State University’s four recipients of a Pulitzer Prize for Journalism.

The other recipients of this prestigious award are Lauren Soth (in 1956), Robert L. Bartley (in 1980) and Christopher Adams (in 2000). Knudson, however, holds the distinction of being one of the youngest recipients of the award (age 31) and one of a modest number of journalists who has been twice honored by the Pulitzer Prize selection committee (in 1985 and 1992).

Greenlee School Director Michael Bugeja describes Knudson’s commitment to fact-seeking and persistent investigative reporting as “a benchmark for us at Greenlee. He continues to be one of our most treasured alumni.” (Bugeja e-mail, 4 Jan. 2017)

The following is in four parts: First, Knudson’s education at Iowa State, next, Knudson’s professional career, then major awards received for Knudson’s investigative reports, and finally, a personal and reflections section.

Higher Education

1971 — Enrolled at Iowa State as freshman

1972 — March. Dropped out after two “disastrous” quarters.

1972-1977 — Did some traveling in the U.S. West, but mainly worked in various construction jobs in the Ames area.

1977 Summer — (Age 24) Re-enrolled at Iowa State as an English major and in Winter 1978 he says, he “found a subject matter I loved: journalism.”

Inspired by Prof. William Kunerth’s dedication to public records, Knudson later used Freedom of Information laws (federal and state) to provide depth and authentication to his reporting.

1979 — One of 24 students nationally to earn a $1,000 scholarship from the American Newspaper Publishers Association.

1980 — Iowa State University BA in Journalism and Mass Communication

Professional Employment

1978 — Part-time reporter for the Des Moines Register as an ISU junior.

1979 (21 Jan. 1979) — Knudson had his first copyrighted front-page story in the Register about state funding by ISU for Council for Agricultural and Science Technology (an organization that frequently acted as an advocate for agribusiness).

1979 (summer) — As a senior-to-be intern in the Chicago bureau of the Wall Street Journal, Knudson scored three front-page by-lined stories, including one about puppy mills (USDA Begins Crackdown on ‘Puppy Mill’ Violations).

1980 — Hired by Des Moines Register for the Farm-Business Staff.

1982 — Transferred to the Register’s bureau in Iowa City.

1985-87 — Reporter for the New York Times.

1988-2014 — Sacramento Bee as an investigative reporter

2015 – present — Center for Investigative Reporting (aka Reveal News), San Francisco Bay area writing about nature, environment and climate.

Major honors and awards

Knudson has received five major awards for four of his investigative efforts so far:

1985 — Pulitzer Prize, for National Reporting for a six-part series, “A Harvest of Harm: The farm-health crisis” that ran in the Des Moines Register in September 1984. Knudson documented how farming had become the nation’s most hazardous occupation. The Register described his series as shocking the farm industry “with gripping and sometimes grisly stories of death, dismemberment and disease on America’s farms.”

1992 — Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for a five-part series in the Sacramento Bee in 1991 on the Sierra Nevada mountain range (“The Sierra in Peril)” in which he detailed how logging, air pollution, human development and federal land management policies had contributed to “the slow decay of a great national treasure.” As a result, Congress ordered a scientific review and the California Department of Natural Resources organized hearings to discuss the problem and solutions.

2004 Global Award for Excellence in Environmental Reporting presented by Reuters and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (the world’s largest and most diverse environmental network.) This award was for Knudson’s “groundbreaking” series — “State of Denial” — in the Sacramento Bee that contrasted California’s consumption of natural resources from foreign countries with its conservation of natural resources within its own borders.

2013 — Knight-Risser Prize for Western Environmental Journalism for his 3-part series in the Sacramento Bee in April 2012, “The Killing Agency,” about how a little-known U.S. Department of Agriculture agency called Wildlife Services “traps and kills millions of animals — intentionally and inadvertently — from coyotes and bears to birds, beavers and bald eagles and wolverines – even house pets” . . . often in ways that are inhumane, excessive and at odds with science.”

His research over 9 months included dozens of Freedom of Information and state public record requests, as well as decades-old government reports and hearings to confirm that more than 50,000 non-target animals had been accidentally killed over the past 13 years by steel traps, wire snares and sodium cyanide poison.

2013 – Animal Welfare Institute’s Albert Schweitzer Medal for outstanding achievement in the advancement of animal welfare for the “Killing Agency” stories – which exposed the Wildlife Services’ “irresponsible practices” and led to calls for reform. Knudson was its 46th recipient in the 58-year history of the award, which is considered “the highest form of recognition in the animal protection movement.” (Others have included environmentalists Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall.)

Personal & Reflections

Thomas Jeffrey Knudson is the son of Coreen and Melvin Knudson. He was born on 6 July 1953 in Manning, Iowa. He married Eileen Mullaney, a registered nurse, in 1987. They have a daughter, Kristen Knudson Aiemjoy, who was born on 6 July 1988.

Knudson has been twice honored by Iowa State University. In 1985 he received the James W. Schwartz Award for distinguished service to journalism from the Greenlee School of Journalism & Communication (Iowa State’s highest honor in this field).

In 1986 he was selected as one of Iowa State University’s five Outstanding Young Alumni — an award honoring graduates under 40.

Looking back over the past 40 years, Knudson says: “All of this started, of course, with Bill [Kunerth] and all the others at ISU.[1] And for that I will always be grateful.”

Selected Sources

1985 National Reporting, “A Harvest of Harm – The Farm-Health Crisis,” Tom Knudson, Des Moines Register, Sept. 1984.

1992 Public Service, “The Sierra in Peril,” Tom Knudson, Sacramento Bee 9-13 June 1991.

2004 International Union for Conservation of Nature-Reuters, Global Award for Excellence in Environmental Reporting, Sacramento Bee, “A State of Denial” by Tom Knudson

2013 Animal Welfare Institute, Albert Schweitzer Medal for outstanding achievement in the advance of animal welfare, Tom Knudson, “The Killing Agency.”

2013 Knight-Risser (Stanford University) Prize for Western Environmental Journalism, Tom Knudson, Sacramento Bee, “The Killing Agency” and Knight-Risser Prize Symposium, Feb. 2014.

Des Moines Register, Wall Street Journal, Sacramento Bee and Reveal.

E-mail correspondence: between Tom Knudson and Tom Emmerson from Sept. 2016 through January 2017) – soon to be deposited in Knudson Papers at Parks Library

Journalism (Department) Newsletters 1985 & 1992.

Tom Knudson Papers, MS 399 (1/1 – 1/15), Special Collections, Iowa State University Library, Ames, IA.

(1/1 through 1/15 & separate box with Sacramento Bee’s compilation of Pulitzer prize winning series on the Sierra Nevada mountains.)

"Winners of the Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism, Letters and the Arts". The New York Times. 1985-04-25.

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