Pulitzer Prize winner wins over the hearts of Toreros


Sara Butler/The USD Vista

Sara Butler/The USD Vista

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Steve Breen visited campus last Thursday, March 10, to speak to eager ears at University of San Diego about his career as a political cartoonist.

Escaping the bustling during dead hours, many members of the USD community packed inside the KIPJ Rooms C and D to hear Breen speak. Breen, an editorial cartoonist, discussed his educational background, his professional journey, and his current role at the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Breen is famous in the world of journalism for his witty and artistic political commentary. As a UC Riverside graduate and current UT employee, his work is well-known locally in Southern California. Additionally, many of his pieces are nationally syndicated, appearing in publications including The New York Times, Newsweek, and USA  Today.

The campus visit was sponsored by the USD department of communication studies and Lambda Pi Eta, the national communication studies honor society. Despite the heavy presence of communication studies students and professors, the event was open to all majors and departments.

Breen outlined his professional career path for the audience, as well as the daily breakdown of his current position with Union-Tribune. He emphasized the need for collaboration with other editors, especially with the exchanging of ideas.

With the presidential election looming, these political conversations have turned into interesting brainstorming sessions. Although the recent election is shocking many, the comical political shift has given Breen a lot of material.

“This election season has been so much fun for me and my colleagues,” Breen said. “I can’t tell you how great it is to have a character to work with like Donald Trump. Trump is like three times as good [as Arnold Schwarzenegger]. It’s scary but it’s good for me, as an editorial cartoonist, because I can do cartoons on Trump all day long.”

He discussed some of his specific cartoons, illustrating a few of his most famous works in person for the audience with a few pen strokes. He noted that many of these popular cartoons have been the most simple. While he may not submit them for his Pulitzer selection package, he thinks these resonate well with readers.

However, sometimes these seemingly innocent cartoons spark controversy. He mentioned one of the challenges that come with the cartoonist career, such as offending readers.

“Sometimes I’ll do a cartoon and I’ll think ‘Ah this is good, no one’s gonna complain about this’, and I’ll get into the newspaper the next day and there’s angry voicemails or emails,” Breen said. “You just have no control over it. You can explain, but a lot of times they don’t care. Screw-ups are very common, and you can never tell how a cartoon will take on a life of its own.”

Breen switched his business major to study political science at UC Riverside, where he graduated back in 1992. Looking back at his time in school, Breen offered words of wisdom to current USD undergraduates.

“Appreciate how awesome this time of your life is, and how quickly it passes,” Breen said. “Just have fun and enjoy where you are right now. [Also] One concrete piece of advice I would give myself: Travel. Get out there and see the world, or at least a part of the world. That’s one thing I wish I would have done… studied abroad or taken a year off to go through Europe or Asia.”

Before landing his first cartoonist gig at Asbury Park Press in New Jersey, Breen earned his teaching credentials to become a high school teacher. He strongly encouraged USD students to follow their dreams, but also have a grip on reality.

“You have to maintain those 2 Ps: passion and practicality,” Breen said. “Always have a fallback job. Have a Plan B. That doesn’t mean by having a Plan B that you believe in yourself less, it just means you’re being smart and practical.”

While he encouraged a fallback option, he emphasized the need for passion within the journalism field, as well as other industries.

“You gotta want it more than the next guy or girl,” Breen said. “You just gotta be hungrier. Because those opportunities are shrinking, but they’re still out there. If you want it bad enough, you can get it. And don’t be afraid to get your foot into the door, even if it’s a toe. Because if they see that you’re willing to pay your dues, that’s gonna go a long way with a future employer.”

In addition, Breen suggested for Toreros to find a professional they look up to in their desired field for knowledge, support, and connections.

“Have a mentor and soak everything up like a sponge,” Breen said.

Breen’s talk of his personal and professional journey elicited loud laughs and claps from the audience. With graduation approaching for many seniors, Breen’s talk offered insight for Toreros embarking on possible careers in journalism and other fields.

Breen’s work, including his Pulitzer-Prize winning pieces, can be found on his Go Comics webpage, as well as the print and online versions of the San Diego Union-Tribune.