• BEST IN STATE—Senior Courtney Schoen Lewis was named Best PR Student in Utah. Story

Aggie journalists collect 17 prizes at annual Mark of Excellence Awards

April 16th, 2012 Posted in Opinion

By D. Whitney Smith

DENVER—Utah State University journalism students cleaned up at the Society of Professional Journalists 2012 Mark of Excellence Awards at the Region 9 Conference in Denver this weekend.

USU student journalists came home with 17 awards for some of the best work in the four-state region, including nine first-place awards. JCOM junior Dan Smith led for the Aggies with four MoE Awards, and the staff of the Hard News Café was honored for producing the best independent online news site in the region.

JCOM professor Matthew LaPlante, who won four Top of the Rockies Awards himself for his freelance work, led a delegation from Salt Lake City to Denver on Friday to join students and faculty from SPJ Region 9 schools from across Utah, Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico, such as Colorado Mesa University, Weber State, New Mexico State and Laramie Community College, for the two-day annual SPJ Conference at the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver.

Professional journalists from Region 9—including Jim Anderson, news editor for the Associated Press Denver, and Fred Brown, former Denver Post bureau chief and former National SPJ president and ethics chair—ran workshops and programs with broadcast, print and photojournalism students, all eager to brush shoulders with professional members of the journalism world.

“We went to this conference last year” in Salt Lake City, said Katherine Schultz, a journalism student from Colorado Mesa University, “and, just looking at the program, the one thing that I did really like is that the [SPJ] chapter put up a two-hour period for one-on-one mentoring with professionals. I think that’s really beneficial to students.”

Schultz also said she enjoyed conference sessions in which professional journalists spoke about the differences between blogging and journalism, as well as sessions concerning “Ethics in a digital world” and, “Is blogging journalism?”

The Mark of Excellence Award are competitions to recognize the top three student journalusts in a wide range of categories of radio, TV news, print and online journalism and photography. The 2012 MoE Awards were announced Saturday in the Adirondack Room of the Tivoli Center at the Auraria Campus in Denver. Before the announcements, more than 100 students, faculty and professionals lined up for complimentary tacos and enchiladas, soft drinks and an impressive dessert bar.

Then SPJ national secretary and treasurer David Cuillier of the University of Arizona introduces the awards ceremony and gave his State of the State of Journalism address.

“I’m relying on you,” Cuillier told the audience. “Because when I’m older and feebler—when I’m retired—we may not have a democracy, we may not have what we have in America today if you guys don’t hold the line. Hold our government accountable, expose injustice, serve the public.”

SPJ Region 9 director Donald Meyers of The Salt Lake Tribune then embarked on the long list of winners of 2012’s regional Mark of Excellence Awards. Winners came from throughout the four-state Intermountain region, but it was clear Utah is home to a growing cadre of strong journalistic talent.

Winners were announced from Weber State, University of Utah and Brigham Young University, but Utah State University students swept with a total of 17 awards, including first-place winners Stephen Worthington, Max Parker Dahl and Jakob Asplund for their opinion columns on Hard News Café; Shirrel Cooper of HNC and Rhett Wilkinson of The Utah Statesman; four-award winner D. Whitney Smith for his work on Hard News Café and The Statesman; and a first place award for Hard News Café itself as the Best Independent Online Student Publication in the region. First-place award winners from each region go on to compete for national MoE Awards at the national SPJ convention in October.

Other USU Mark of Excellence Award winners include Britta Anderson of ATV News for Television General News Reporting, and four more awards for Hard News Café staffers: Heidi Hansen and Cathy Morgan for Online News Reporting, Mandy Morgan for Online In-Depth Reporting, and Ben Zaritsky, for Online Opinion and Commentary.

In Friday’s Top of the Rockies Awards presentations, which recognize the best work by professional journalists in the region, JCOM professor LaPlante won four awards, and 2011 JCOM alumni Rachel Christensen and Storee Powee won for their work at CacheValleyDaily.com, including four first-place Rockies for Powell. (See related story.)

“Congratulations … on your awards,” Cuillier told the audience. “Thanks for being a part of this. Go make the world a better place.”


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