Impact in Profile: Rob Kuznia

Impact in Profile: Rob Kuznia

Rob Kuznia joined the communications department of USC Shoah Foundation as publicist last fall. Today, he is celebrating a major accomplishment from his previous life as a journalist: a Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting.

Kuznia was a reporter at the Daily Breeze newspaper, which covers the South Bay area of Los Angeles, from 2010-2014. During his tenure there, he conducted an investigation of Jose Fernandez, the superintendent of the Centinela Valley high school district. Kuznia uncovered Fernandez’s exorbitant pay and benefits, which totaled over $663,000 in 2013. His series of stories about Fernandez and the corruption surrounding his office led to an investigation by the FBI and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office.

The Pulitzer Prize win was preceded by a Scripps Howard Foundation National Journalism Award (which are generally known to be a predictor of the year’s Pulitzer Prizes for journalism), which gave Kuznia first place in the Community Journalism category on March 17. The judges said of Kuznia’s work, “With painstaking and persistent reporting, the team at the Torrance Daily Breeze exposed not only the lucrative pay and benefits package of the Centinela Valley school superintendent, but a web of relationships that cemented his position and perks. Their stories were thorough, well documented, sharply written and carefully edited for context, clarity and completeness. The resulting criminal probes by the FBI and the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office underscore the impact of the newsroom’s efforts.”

Kuznia said he was not at all expecting to win, considering his competition included some of the biggest newspapers in the country like The New York Times and The Boston Globe. But he believes his prizewinning story demonstrates journalism’s power to expose important stories.

“It’s a reminder to me that community journalism matters. A fourth estate is a really important part of our society,” Kuznia said. “Without anyone watching, who knows what can go on?”

As publicist at USC Shoah Foundation, Kuznia is now on the other side of the journalism coin, helping to pitch stories about the Institute to reporters – it’s like he’s gone “from batter to pitcher,” he said. But working with the USC Shoah Foundation communications staff has taught him a larger lesson about journalism – that every story is really a group effort, not just the work of a lone reporter.

“Reporters rely on us to get the information. We’re crucial to shaping the story,” Kuznia said. “That was a big lesson for me.”

He added that the award seems to close one chapter in his professional life to make way for a new one. He has gone from reporting on community stories to working on “global issues of the highest magnitude” – genocide, tolerance and education around the world, to name a few.

“I’m very excited to be playing on a bigger stage,” he said.