Features, On-Campus Profiles, Profiles

Through Hard-Hitting Storytelling, Nanos Becomes Pulitzer Prize Finalist

In May 2012, Janelle Nanos met Kate Price at a conference about human trafficking, where she had initially set out to report on the local nuns who hosted the conference. But after hearing Price’s story, Nanos felt compelled to learn more.

“When [Price] started talking, one of the first things she said was, ‘My father trafficked me when I was a child,’” Nanos said. “My jaw just dropped—it hit the floor.”

Almost exactly 11 years later, Nanos, a visiting lecturer within Boston College’s Journalism department and BC ’02, was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing. The story, “Kate Price remembers something terrible,” tells Price’s journey of finding confirmation that she was sexually abused as a child. 

“Here was this woman, who was an academic and doing research, who had made the worst thing to happen in her life, then become her life’s work,” Nanos said. “I approached her after she spoke and asked if she’d ever be willing to share her story. … We spent the next 10 years afterwards doing exactly that.”

During those first years she met with Price, Nanos said her main goal was slowly gaining Price’s trust and understanding the complexities of her story.

“It’s not something you can just dump in someone’s lap the first time you meet them,” Nanos said. “I told her early on that I would have to reach out to her family, to her father, to all these people she may not really be excited about talking about—that gave her a little bit of pause.”

Throughout her time researching Price’s story, Nanos said additional obstacles stemmed from the fact that neither of them could work on this project full time. 

“[Price] started a Ph.D. program, I had my first kid in 2015, I started working at The Globe … There was a lot of life stuff happening too,” Nanos said. “We started with the little things, like how the legal system works in Pennsylvania, and what law enforcement looks like.”

Though Nanos spent years investigating and learning the complexities of the abuse Price suffered throughout her childhood, she said the initial breakthrough happened when Price reconnected with her sister, Kari.

“Once they started talking, it was clear there had been some abuse that Kari had experienced that Kate didn’t know the full extent [of],” Nanos said. “[Kari] revealed to Kate and me that she remembers other people abusing her, not just her father.”

Nanos said this moment was eye-opening for Price as she previously thought she was the only one sexually trafficked by her father. It was also essential to the story because it provided a second victim and corroborating evidence.

“For me as a journalist, I had to have objectivity to Kate’s memories, and really question, like, is this woman having real memories?” Nanos said. “I was very cognizant of the fact that there was no proof of these stories … so when Kari confirmed details, it was extraordinarily forward in terms of the story.”

Another key moment in unveiling Price’s story was when Nanos spoke with Gloria Cromis, a family friend close to Price’s mother. Nanos had attempted to contact Cromis on numerous different occasions, with all methods going unanswered—until Nanos showed up on her doorstep.

“I sat in the living room for an hour before she broke down and admitted she knew anything. Goosebumps—people live with this stuff,” Nanos said. “People get so used to not saying anything that when someone finally asks them it’s almost excruciating to actually answer. Yet here I was, on her doorstep, on her couch, and she knew she had to.”

This moment was heavy for Price, according to Nanos. For the first time in her life, she had answers. After a couple hours of conversation with Cromis, there were multiple accounts of confirmation that Price was sexually abused and trafficked by her father. Price also realized that her mother knew about the abuse and did not protect her.

“[For Price] to be able to grapple with that … it’s its own journey,” Nanos said. 

Nanos then spent many more years uncovering evidence and interacting with people from Price’s past. After 10 years of investigating and writing, Nanos’ piece, “Kate Price remembers something terrible,” was published in the Globe Magazine in July of 2022. 

Before the story was published, Francis Storrs, an editor for the Globe Magazine and BC ’01, joined Scott Allen in editing Nanos’ piece. Before they worked together, Storrs said he had respected Nanos’ journalistic work for years prior.  

“If you’re into journalism, you read Janelle’s stories,” Storrs said. “I’ve never seen someone work harder, more carefully, or more emphatically than Janelle did in [Price’s] story. … She never gives up.”

Nanos has a clear-eyed sense of her own work, which allowed her to remain cognizant of the complexity of the story she was writing, according to Carlo Rotella, a BC professor of American studies, English, and journalism. Rotella said this guides her as she reports on heavy and complicated subjects.

“She’s an extremely resourceful reporter, you know, she stays with it, and is not afraid of difficult conversations,” Rotella said. “She’s never discouraged. There is no task too hard, nothing too daunting … which also allows [her] to stay curious.”

Nanos’ story brought numerous responses from other victims trafficked by relatives, and The Globe submitted her story under two categories for the Pulitzer. 

(Photo Courtesy of Janelle Nanos)

“I was watching … and when it got to the feature writing category I just held my breath,” Nanos said. “When they called my name, I just lost it. I just started screaming.”

Storrs said he was thrilled to see Nanos’ work recognized as a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.

“It’s a masterpiece of magazine journalism, and it’s also a masterpiece of humanity and professionalism as well,” Storrs said. 

Writing Price’s story impacted Nanos in both her writing and everyday life, she said.

“It has made me so much more mindful and cognizant about trauma, and the trauma that victims live with and how that manifests in our body, brains, and our ability to live in the world and relate to people,” Nanos said. 

Because “Kate Price remembers something terrible” is such a long, complicated, and nuanced story, Storrs said Nanos’ ability to clearly guide readers through it is an incredible talent. 

“It’s a horrifying thing that Kate Price had to go through, and it is difficult to read about,” Storrs said. “[Nanos] has immense control over how she’s telling stories.”

Nanos said she knew writing about Price’s experience meant taking on the challenge of telling a difficult story, and she had to take a risk.

“I sat down with my editor the day before it was published, and he said ‘This story is brilliant … I just don’t know if people are going to want to stay with it. It’s just that hard. You have to be ready to know that,’” Nanos said. “But … the next day, the story had off the charts readership.”

Nanos is now working on a book, An Unthinkable Crime, which is named after a quote from the local police chief in Price’s town. The book looks at the last 50 years of academic research on child exploitation and organized abuse, according to Nanos, and it features Kate’s story and how it intersects with other survivors’ stories. 

“At its core, so much of this abuse is happening in the home, by family members and those close to kids,” Nanos said. “So to only talk about sex abuse in the context of coaches, clergy, ‘stranger danger,’ is to overlook the fact that the problem is coming from inside the house … but we don’t talk about that.”

Rotella said Nanos has the natural capability to write this book due to her flexibility and talent as a journalist and writer.

“I’m really looking forward to whatever comes next, and her telling this story at book length,” Rotella said. “She is so suited to that whole side, you know, she has such an ability to talk to people and to see what’s meaningful about their stories.”

Nanos named Rotella as her mentor, as he was previously her professor in American studies at BC. But now, Rotella said he sends students with an interest in journalism to her.

“She became a professional journalist pretty quickly, at which point she knew more about the business than I did,” Rotella said. “So, if there’s been any mentoring, she’s done a lot more of it from people I sent to her.”

Ultimately, Nanos said she could not have completed her Globe story without the trust Price placed in her.

“I am just so grateful,” Nanos said. “Being able to tell this hard story … is so important, and it is such a gift.” 

Spencer Steppe contributed to reporting.

July 28, 2023