2020-2021 Shaufler Prize in Journalism

Alumni Highlight: Pulitzer Prize winner remembers lessons learned at Cronkite School

Tuesday, March 22, 2022


Aaron Lavinsky has won journalism’s most prestigious awards since graduating from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2014. 

Lavinsky, who is a photographer for The Star Tribune in Minneapolis, has received a number of local and national awards and was a finalist for the Photographer of the Year with Pictures of the Year International.

In June 2021, he reached one of the most siginificant milestones of his career when he was part of a team that won the Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News for their coverage of George Floyd’s murder and the subsequent protests in Minneapolis.

While humbly celebrating his accomplishments, Lavinsky has remained focused on producing quality journalism and adhering to the lessons he learned at the Cronkite School.

“We don’t do it for the awards,” he said. “They’re a feather in the cap and they’re great, but first and foremost it’s about telling the story. It’s about being true to the subjects and showing them that you care about their story.”

Before becoming an award-winning journalist at The Star Tribune, Lavinsky came to Cronkite in 2010 after spending a few years working in the film industry in Los Angeles. An internship with The Seattle Times, along with working at The State Press at ASU and being selected for the Pulliam Fellowship with The Arizona Republic, ignited his passion for photojournalism.

Star Tribune staff photographer Aaron Lavinsky.
Aaron Lavinsky
Download Full Image

“My internship with The Seattle Times was very formative, and it was telling how much leverage we had to be able to get an internship like that,” Lavinsky said. “I worked for The State Press for most of my time at school and that’s what kind of cultivated my love for photojournalism.”

Lavinsky learned key photojournalism techniques from Cronkite instructors Michael Schennum and Dave Seibert’s classes, but he also built lasting relationships and friendships with guest speakers and award-winning photojournalists Joshua Lott and Nick Oza. 

“I’d say the Cronkite School exposed us to a lot of incredible talent,” he said. “I’m just happy to be one of the group of really talented photographers that have come through ASU.”

Since graduating, Lavinsky has followed the same path as many of his mentors, winning the Pulitzer along with a number of other photojournalism awards. 

“We’re all very proud of the Pulitzer win,” Lavinsky said. “It was really a team effort, and I was one small piece of a much larger production. We’re all just fortunate to have been able to be the right people at the right time to document one of the most historic moments in recent U.S. history.”

In 2016, Lavinsky won first place in the Sports Multimedia Package category for the National Press Photographers Association Best of Photojournalism Multimedia for his project “Hope on the Range.” The video highlighted junior college football players at Mesabi Range College who used football as an outlet and had hopes of playing in the NFL. 

He has also been recognized by Pictures of the Year International, including an Award of Excellence for his story “The killing of Daunte Wright” and received First Place in the Local News Picture Story category for his story “Duty to mend regret and heartbreak.” In addition, he was named a Finalist for Photographer of the Year.

Lavinsky has mainly focused on COVID-19 related stories within the last couple of years, going to hospitals and talking to patients, doctors and staff to tell the stories of those who have been affected by the pandemic. 

“With the exception of the most dangerous moments and aftermath of the George Floyd situation, this has been the most difficult thing to cover with all of the privacy issues and the medical issues,” Lavinsky said. “It’s really difficult to walk into a room with somebody who’s dying and ask them what their story is, ask them about the vaccine. It’s a heck of a thing to ask somebody who is potentially on their deathbed if they regret getting the vaccine or not.”

Lavinsky has told impactful stories throughout his career, and he wants to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. 

“I definitely can see a day in 10, 15 or 20 years down the line when I want to do something lighter,” he said. “But for now, I feel very fortunate to pursue important moments in Minnesota and the country. I like to think I’m well suited to be on the front lines, you know, I keep my head down, do the work and hopefully we’ll keep pushing out important stories.”

By Dylan Breese