When Erik Lukens *95 was studying in the English department’s Ph.D. program, the Graduate School hosted a career day of sorts, to give students a sense of what opportunities might be available to them outside the academy. After listening to writer and critic Carlin Romano ’76, then at the Philadelphia Inquirer, Lukens took an interest in journalism. This month, more than two decades after getting his start as part-time copy editor at The Trentonian, Lukens joined an elite group within the profession, sharing the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing with his colleagues at The Oregonian for their editorials about reforms to their state’s pension system for public employees. Two weeks after the announcement, he told PAW, it still “seems kind of unreal.”
At Princeton, Lukens wrote his dissertation in the daytime and went to Trenton in the evenings, working on the copy desk and occasionally filling in as an editorial writer. Graduate school provided valuable skills in research, analysis, and persuasive writing. The newspaper’s tabloid style also helped to shape his writing. “You learn pretty quickly not to bore people to death,” he said.
Lukens worked full time at The Trentonian after graduation before moving on to The Bulletin in Bend, Ore. He joined The Oregonian in 2012 as the editorial and commentary editor.
While The Oregonian has won eight Pulitzers in its history — including six since 1999 — the award for editorial writing came as a surprise to Lukens. He knew that the pension-reform series had resonated with readers, who debated the stories and left hundreds of online comments. But the Pulitzer jury, he said, does a good job of keeping its deliberations behind closed doors.
Lukens and his editorial colleagues celebrated the award with a champagne toast in the newsroom in Portland, and he credits the reporting staff for exploring the pension issue over the course of several years, laying the groundwork for the editorials. After the brief celebration, the staff went back to work. It’s primary season, Lukens said, and there are lots of endorsements to write.