Like many seniors graduating college, James Brooks (’06) received his diploma from Virginia Tech as a double major in history and English without a clue as to what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Flash-forward a decade and Brooks reports for Anchorage Daily News and has had the opportunity to play a role in the Pulitzer Prize winning project “Lawless,” a series that examined sexual violence throughout rural Alaska and helped bring the inadequate police force in those regions to light.
In the early ‘00s, Brooks came to Tech with the full intent of majoring in computer science but quickly realized that wasn’t for him. He made the switch to history and English and has stuck with it ever since.
“After school I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and I ended up landing at a newspaper down in the Florida Keys,” Brooks said. “From there, I saw a job open up in Alaska, and I took that in 2008. I’ve been here ever since.”
While in Alaska, Brooks worked for the Juneau Empire, Kodiak Daily Mirror and the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner before acquiring his position at Anchorage Daily News. There, he has had the opportunity to witness change evoked by the “Lawless” series.
“I watched as the Alaska legislature took some actions in response to what we had published,” Brooks said.
Alaska being the state with the highest rates of sexual violence, the reports uncovered the stories from survivors that had gone unheard for years. These crimes and the respective victims were denied any access to first responders and justice from the legal system. The investigation finally brought to light Alaska’s failing justice system specifically with regards to crimes of sexual violence.
“A lot of times, we tend to hear only about the cases that result in prosecution. We don’t hear as much about the people who never see justice done,” Brooks said. “Even the cases that result in someone going to jail don’t typically hear from the victims and what happens to them afterward and how their lives are affected.”
Needless to say, Brooks and those directly involved with “Lawless” were taken out of their comfort zones and ultimately learned a lot about a world relatively hidden from view. Brooks himself is a big proponent of gaining hands-on experience and interacting with people and places off the beaten path.
“Talk to people that you don’t encounter every day. Search for new experiences and people. Try and see something new; break out of the mold,” Brooks said.
Brooks suggested to think about what things affect us each day that we might not think about.
“A degree is only part of what you’ll need. You’ll need other things beyond your degree. Things like jobs or experience in the career you want to pursue. I had to work through college and I think that work experience helped me out a lot,” Brooks said.
Brooks emphasizes that it’s not always a direct path to getting where you want to go, and that’s okay, because it’s all about learning from those experiences.
“Try and do something. Even if it’s not the right thing, you’ll find that out pretty quick. Figure it out as you go,” Brooks said.