John Maines '77
Pulitzer Prize-winner John G. Maines III '77 said he began a career in journalism purely by accident. When he arrived at SUNY Canton to study Agricultural Engineering Technology, he struck up a friendship with Philip D. Markham '76, the Editor in Chief of the campus newspaper, The Insight. With no prior news writing experience, Mainesd joined the staff and began covering campus news.
“I was a beginner; I had to quickly learn the art of writing on a deadline and the organizational skills it took to put out a newspaper,” he said.
He realized he had a knack for journalism and was promoted to Campus News Editor. He penned an editorial that caught the attention of the Massena Observer’s Managing Editor, who offered him a full-time position.
“I was working several odd jobs at the time and was barely making ends meet. I was flat broke, so it was very difficult to turn down a job that paid a whopping $7,000 per year,” he joked.
"I took a sharp turn from engineering into journalism, but many of the skills I learned at SUNY Canton have stayed with me throughout my career.”
Although he regrets not finishing his degree, his career took off. After earning his stripes as a beat reporter, he landed a job at Gannet News and then moved to Washington, D.C., in 1989 to try freelance writing. Maines said this is where he became acquainted with computer-assisted reporting, or CAR, which was at its infancy. Eventually he returned to news writing in 1993, this time with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
His CAR background was a perfect fit for the Sentinel’s investigative team. He worked on high-profile stories about FEMA scams, felons working at child-care centers and financial inequities among Seminole Indian tribal members. But it was his groundbreaking work on a series about speeding police officers that helped earn the paper its first Pulitzer Prize Gold Medal for public service in 2013.
Maines gathered an exhaustive amount of data from toll records, which found that nearly 800 off-duty cops were driving an average of 90 to 130 mph on Florida’s highways. Not only did his work earn a Pulitzer, but it led to police discipline and reforms. “It was the highlight of my career,” he said.
As a database specialist, much of his work is more technologically driven than his colleagues, which he said is a perfect fit for his talents. “I’ve been really lucky,” he said. "I took a sharp turn from engineering into journalism, but many of the skills I learned at SUNY Canton have stayed with me throughout my career.”
Maines was inducted into the SUNY Canton Hall of Fame in June 2016 and received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters award in May 2018.