Two Aggies on Staff of Pulitzer-Prize Winning Paper

Photo: reporters react with surprise
UC Davis alumnus Matthias Gafni and fellow East Bay Times reporters Thomas Peele, Harry Harris, Erin Baldassari and David Debolt react as they learn of their Pulitzer Prize win for breaking news at their office in downtown Oakland, California, on Monday, April 10, 2017. The staff of the East Bay Times won journalism's highest honor for their coverage of the tragic Ghost Ship warehouse fire which killed 36 people in December 2016. (Jane Tyska/East Bay Times)

Investigative reporter Matthias Gafni (B.A, English/rhetoric and communication, ’98), who got his journalism start at The California Aggie, was a lead writer in a series of articles that won the East Bay Times the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News.

The staff of the East Bay Times won journalism’s highest honor for its coverage of the Ghost Ship warehouse fire, which killed 36 people in December 2016. “It’s in times of tragedy that journalists often do their finest work,” the paper said in an April 10 editorial, “Our Work on Ghost Ship has Just Begun,” after the Pulitzer Prize was announced.

Gafni, among his other reporting, helped uncover that building inspectors had launched an investigation of illegal structures in the building just three weeks before the fire, but had been unable to gain access. He also shared a byline on  "The Last Hours of Oakland’s Ghost Ship Warehouse," a narrative that takes readers inside the party-turned-tragedy.

Careers Launched at The Aggie

Portrait photo
Angela Ruggiero

Gafni is one of two UC Davis alumni on the East Bay Times staff. Angela Ruggiero (B.A., communication/Italian, ’10), has contributed to the paper’s continuing Ghost Ship coverage.

Both credited their experience at the student-run Aggie newspaper with launching their journalism careers. “There’s no journalism program at UC Davis, so I learned on the fly at The Aggie and owe my career to the paper,” says Gafni, who started as a sports writer his freshman year, later serving as sports editor and editor-in-chief.

Photo: family in newsroom
Matthias Gafni with his wife, UC Davis alumna Carrie (Ward) ’97, and their children.

Ruggiero was a columnist, reporter and eventually the features editor during her four years with The Aggie. “The Aggie was my first taste into reporting and writing professionally, teaching me the backbone of journalism with real hands-on experiences,” she says. “Without that experience, I would not be where I am today.”

Ruggerio worked at VIA MagazineThe Morgan Hill Times and The Palo Alto Daily Post before joining the East Bay Times staff. “I’m quite proud to work for a newspaper with colleagues that dived in immediately to uncover the truth of this horribly tragedy. Within days, the East Bay Times had uncovered information about the deadly fire that no one else had, thanks to the dedication of our staff.”

Before joining the East Bay Times, Gafni worked for The Vallejo Times Herald and The Contra Costa Times.

Kathleen Holder, content strategist in the UC Davis College of Letters and Science