Journalist Brian Lyman was honored by the Pulitzer board last month for his columns challenging policies that target transgender youth and public libraries’ independence.

Brian Lyman, who has been immersed in Alabama state politics as a reporter for nearly two decades, was named a 2024 Pulitzer Prize finalist for his “brave, clear, and pointed columns that challenge ever-more-repressive state policies flouting democratic norms and targeting vulnerable populations.”

For Lyman, a 1999 Fordham graduate, it was the latest milestone in a journey that began at the University’s Rose Hill campus a quarter century ago, when he was the opinion editor of The Fordham Ram

He previously worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register, and the Anniston Star—and last year, he became the founding editor of the Alabama Reflector, a nonprofit outlet that’s part of States Newsroom, a group that aims to bolster state-level reporting across the country.

What was it like finding out you were a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize?

We have this huge story running, and I’ve been deep in editing it, so I was not actually listening to the Pulitzer announcements. A friend who’s working in Nashville texted me, “Congratulations on the Pulitzer!” And I texted her back, “Wait, what?” Then my colleagues ran in telling me, so I may have been the last person to find out.

In your commentary you focus a lot on major issues—crime, the death penalty, transgender youth. How do you pick the topics you want to dive into?

The transgender issue has been going on for almost three years now in Alabama, but the column [cited by the Pulitzer board] was [published in April], when the latest [transgender sports] ban was moving toward passage. It just felt like it was something we needed to let people know. “Oh, by the way, this extremely small, extremely vulnerable group is being targeted by your lawmakers, and we need to pay attention to this.” 

Some issues, like the column I did about prisons, legislators aren’t really talking about, because it’s not an issue that wins votes, and it’s something they would rather not deal with. But I’ve been inside those prisons. You don’t need to read the Department of Justice reports on the violence within those prisons to be horrified. So, it was just a way of trying to remind people there’s a huge humanitarian crisis that the state government is not dealing with. 

And sometimes it’s both an issue in the news and something that happened in real life. My column about the libraries (“The most dangerous idea in a library? Empathy”) was provoked by my daughter just asking me about the value of reading.

Those issues are at the center of a lot of national conversations too. How do you see your role in covering them in Alabama as they go beyond your state? 

I said in the opening column when we launched the Reflector, Alabama is the place where America confronts itself. This is where we see the very best and the very worst of the American character. 

Let’s talk about the negative side: We still work under a state constitution passed in 1901 that was framed deliberately to disenfranchise Black Alabamians and poor white [people]. You have a government that’s habitually uninterested in really helping address issues of poverty, which are rampant in Alabama. It’s a government that constantly jumps at moral crises that really don’t have any impact on the day-to-day lives of people. 

On the positive side of things, almost every major Civil Rights event that took place between 1955 and 1968 came from Alabama. It’s not just Rosa Parks. It’s not just Martin Luther King. It’s school funding issues, it’s voting issues. New York Times versus Sullivan came out of Montgomery. There are brave men and women in this state who constantly demand better. When they demand more, they lead to these great decisions that have, sometimes slowly, pulled Alabama forward. I feel like our role is just to make sure that all these good people in Alabama know what their state government is doing so they can take the appropriate action to support it or, more often, oppose it.

Thinking back to your time at Fordham, do you have things you learned here that you still use today?

It’s been 25 years since I graduated from Fordham, but I feel like everything I do is basically what I did at The Ram, just more—short ledes, hitting deadlines, making as many phone calls as possible. We learned from our older colleagues, and then we passed it on to our younger colleagues. And we did some great things. One editorial sticks out. An LGBTQ group applied for club status and was denied for whatever reason—this is 1997, I think—and we wrote a very lengthy editorial blasting that decision. I was always very proud that we did that. 

Now, on the other hand, it’s obviously a student newspaper, so we had some mistakes. It was fall of 1998, and I think it was Daniel Berrigan who taught a class called Poems by Poets in Torment. It’s the end of the semester, and this ends up on our front page. And this story, I swear goes through six pairs of eyes, including my own, and none of us notice that we have named the class Poems by Pets in Torment. I did not hear the end of that for months.

Interview conducted, edited, and condensed by Kelly Prinz, FCRH ’15.