Before she came to Temple, Julie Brown worked some odd jobs, like a stint in a lampshade factory, to support herself as a teenager.
But even after Brown, a 1987 journalism alumna, graduated magna cum laude from what was then the School of Media and Communication and worked full-time as a journalist, she still had to waitress on-and-off for eight years to make ends meet, she said.
“Back then, it was known that you would never make money as a newspaper reporter,” Brown said. “Actors with their craft, they work all these odd-jobs until they get discovered. And that’s kind of what happened to me.”
No longer waitressing, Brown, an investigative reporter with the Miami Herald, will be returning to Temple on Friday to be inducted into the Klein School of Media and Communications’ Alumni Hall of Fame alongside five others at the annual Lew Klein Excellence in the Media Awards.
Brown is best known for her investigative series “Perversion of Justice,” which examined a sweetheart plea deal that former U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta gave to billionaire Jeffrey Epstein in 2008.
Epstein was required to register as a sex offender and pay restitution to approximately 36 victims as part of the plea deal, Brown’s story found, yet the Herald identified approximately 80 women who said they were sexually abused by Epstein from 2001 to 2006.
In July, federal prosecutors arrested Epstein for orchestrating a “vast network of underage victims” involving girls as young as 14, the New York Times reported. Epstein later died by suicide in prison.
Brown received a George Polk Award in Justice Reporting alongside visual journalist Emily Michot for the series, according to the Miami Herald.
One prosecutor said at a news conference announcing the arrest that their case was “assisted by some excellent investigative journalism.”
When David Boardman, Klein College’s dean, called Brown to tell her that she would receive the alumni award, she broke into tears, she said.
“I’m kind of in shock,” Brown said. “I’m in shock about everything. I just never thought it would happen.”
“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to honor Julie. Her courageous reporting is a perfect manifestation of Temple’s motto: Perseverance matters,” Boardman wrote in an email to The Temple News.
Brown, raised by a single mother, left home at 16. Four years later, she received a scholarship to pay for her full tuition at Temple but continued to waitress throughout college to pay her rent, she said.
At Temple, Brown’s journalism professors continuously encouraged her to get out into the field and write, she said, which is the best advice she can give to journalism students today.
“In reality, you learn the most about journalism by going out and reporting and learning on your own, even if its covering the local sports game,” Brown said.
Brown was able to work her way up to a reporting job at the Philadelphia Daily News in 1996, a product of her willingness to write about a wide range of topics, she said.
“I worked really hard to make sure I could do almost anything that the editors asked me to do,” Brown said.
Barbara Laker, an investigative reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer, worked at the Philadelphia Daily News, starting in 1993. She worked alongside Brown, who she said is one of the “best reporters in the business.”
“I just remember whenever she was put on a story, because we were competing with the Inquirer, other reporters in the city would get really nervous because they knew she was a pro and that she wouldn’t let up,” Laker added.
While at the Daily News, Brown wrote an investigative series on a scourge of Hepatitis C infections among Philadelphia firefighters, Laker said, which led to mandatory testing for public safety workers nationwide.
“She would see stories that no one else would see, she would have the making in her to know how to get that story,” Laker said.
More than three decades after graduating, Brown said she’s grateful for how much Temple believed in her.
“If it wasn’t for Temple, I wouldn’t be here,” Brown said. “Hey, maybe, if it wasn’t for Temple, Jeffrey Epstein would still be flying his plane around with sex trafficking victims. Who knows?”