Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times feature writer John Branch readily admits that his career path has not been a traditional one.
The Golden High School graduate (Class of 1985) initially set out for a career in business.
“I wasn’t following my heart, just my head,” the 45-year-old said.
But a career change at the age of 28 took him from doing marketing work for Costco, back to school for a second degree, and eventually to the hallowed journalistic halls of The New York Times.
Last week one of Branch’s stories — a multimedia piece about an avalanche in Washington State that claimed three lives — won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.
His family moved to Golden when he was five. His father worked for Coors, and his mother, Sue Branch, worked as a substitute teacher for Golden High School for 25 years.
“I’m old enough to say that Golden was different back then,” John Branch said, describing it as a bit more folksy, not so trendy, “essential Americana.”
As a child, he said he loved reading about sports in both The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News sports sections.
“In the back of my mind, I always thought it’d be great to be a sportswriter,” he said.
“I think it was just a lifelong dream of his to be a journalist,” Sue Branch said. She described the Branch family as being “full of pride” about the story winning the Pulitzer.
The story took six months of reporting, and another six months of multimedia design to complete. It blends together Branch’s story text with animated graphics, maps, pictures, audio, and video to tell the tale of that fatal avalanche.
In all, Branch said 25 people at The New York Times helped craft the finished product. The story also won a Peabody award, “which is normally reserved for television or documentaries.”
Branch said he thinks the blending of so many media elements is the future of long-form journalism.
“But who knows, in a few years they may look back at my story and call it ‘quaint.’ Things just move so fast,” he said.
His mother has her own theory about what made her son’s storywriting award-winning.
“He’s a very kind and empathetic person, which I think has helped him get to know about the people he wrote about,” she