WATERVILLE — A former intern at the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal has won a Pulitzer Prize, journalism’s highest honor.

Matt Apuzzo was one of four Associated Press reporters to win a Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for a lengthy series that exposed efforts by the New York Police Department to secretly gather intelligence on members of the Muslim community — even in instances where there was no wrongdoing.

Apuzzo, 33, a graduate of Colby College in Waterville, learned Monday he’d won the prize, which includes a $10,000 award for the four collaborators. He was a featued interview Wednesday night on the National Public Radio program “Fresh Air.”

Apuzzo, who lives and works in Washington, D.C., got his start in journalism at the Colby Echo, a student-run newspaper. During his sophomore year, in 1998, Apuzzo took an internship at the Morning Sentinel. He also worked part-time at the Kennebec Journal sports desk in 1999.

Gerry Boyle, who was news editor for the Morning Sentinel during Apuzzo’s tenure, said he has followed the journalist’s rise to prominence.

“It’s been just like a space shuttle taking off,” said Boyle, who is a novelist and managing editor for Colby Magazine.

At the Sentinel, Apuzzo started out working nights at the sports desk entering scores, he said during a phone interview Wednesday. At the time, he was more interested in becoming a doctor.

But one night he got hooked.

Apuzzo was in the newsroom one night when police scanner chatter caught his attention. A 12-year-old boy in Waterville had driven away in his parents’ car and caused a minor wreck. Another reporter was working feverishly on a front-page article, so Apuzzo volunteered to cover the breaking news.

“I had no idea what the hell I was doing out there,” he said.

Apuzzo said he filled half a notebook writing down irrelevent details like the license plate number, the vehicle identification number and the names of all the rescuers at the scene. He also took statements from everyone.

“It was a light human-interest story,” he said. “And I’m out there like I’m covering the Manson murders.”

Apuzzo said he envisioned a riveting 1,000-word account of the incident, but when he returned to the office, Boyle said he could write 180 words.

Boyle gave him 20 minutes to finish it.

Apuzzo said he’s sure the article was awful.

Nonetheless, when he saw his byline the next day, his life changed direction.

“I was just tickled. After that, I think the chances of me doing anything else for a living were pretty low,” he said.

After he graduated from Colby in 2000, Apuzzo worked for three years at the New Bedford Standard Times in New Bedford, Mass., then for the Associated Press at the Hartford, Conn., bureau. In 2006, he moved Washington, D.C., to be a legal affairs writer for the AP and later joined their investigative news team. During the past few years, Apuzzo’s focus has been on national security and intelligence.

Associated Press stories have the potential to reach a billion people per day throughout the world, he said.

The prize-winning series began slowly in December 2010, when he and his colleague, Adam Goldman, began to hear rumblings of a potential scandal. Over the next months, the project grew in scope and gained two more reporters. Then, from last June through February, the story became the team’s primary focus.

The pace of work suits him. “The job I’m in right now gives me the two great luxuries in American journalism: I get time to figure things out and the space to explain it,” he said.

Boyle said Apuzzo’s Pulitzer win wasn’t a big surprise.

“It’s only surprising that it happened so soon,” he said. “I always felt he was bound for big things in the newspaper world.”

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]

Pulitzer Prize-winning series

To read the Pulitzer Prize-winning series by Associated Press Reporter Matt Apuzzo and others, visit ap.org/media-center/nypd/investigation.

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