Journalist Dave Curtin (Jour’78) won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1990 for his story about a family whose two young children suffered disfiguring burns after an in-home propane gas explosion. In 2007, he joined the staff at CU Boulder as the executive campus communicator, writing speeches for the chancellor. This summer, he retired after 42 years in writing. Here he reflects on his career and retirement.
You won your Pulitzer Prize in 1990. How did that experience impact your life and your career?
I was 33 when these two tiny children taught me what’s important and changed my perspective on life. As for my career, it opened doors and gave me autonomy.
What drew you to writing and journalism?
The desire to tell stories that could change lives. Many of the stories I told shaped my own life.
Do you still keep in contact with the family you featured in the story?
I did for many years – we shared some family holidays together – but I moved, started a family and they were busy with their lives. I know the children have wonderful families and careers, and it makes my heart sing.
What did you learn about yourself as a writer during that time?
The story is more important than the author, don’t let my emotions bleed into the story, be faithful to everyone in the story, and have the self-discipline to define and fence the story.
What was one of your more memorable moments while working at CU Boulder?
Returning to work on campus 30 years after graduating, I was astonished by the high school GPAs of the students, the research, the number of international students and the growing diversity of the campus. Most memorable are the students I met every year from all walks of life. I was blown away by their accomplishments and service at a young age, and their humility. They make me proud to be a Forever Buff.
What does retirement look like for you?
Camping, hiking, climbing, biking, kayaking and skiing with my family. I see Buffs everywhere I go, and I enjoy connecting with them. I’m also attending CU cultural and athletic events and auditing classes. CU is a wonderful community resource.
You witnessed the journalism industry turn from print to mostly digital in your career. Was there a pivotal moment where you saw a clear change happening?
2006-07. It’s now the consumer’s responsibility to harvest fact from fiction. We all depend on everyone taking that responsibility.
What was it like working as a speechwriter to CU Boulder’s top leader?
Dynamic and a labor of love. Even after 14 years, I was learning new things daily about the university, it’s fluidity and complexities. Chancellor DiStefano is great to work with. He made tough decisions and kept the ship moving forward. It and it was gratifying to play a role.
What advice would you give the journalists of today?
Passion, compassion, fairness, objectivity, trust in your editor. And care for your mental health — you’re covering once-unimaginable tough stuff every day.
Anything else we should know about you?
I’m proud we’re currently a two-generation Buff family. My son, A.J. Curtin (MediaPro’19), graduated from CU Boulder 41 years after I did, in 2019. Of course we bought a brick on the Buff Walk to celebrate!
Photo courtesy Dave Curtin