A week ago, the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) released its Mark of Excellence awards, and 15 UM journalism students were announced as category winners in Region 10, encompassing Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. Yet even more J-school students received acknowledgment for their work, recognized as finalists in those same categories.
“The wide range of projects that we’re being noticed for includes the entire spectrum of journalism, covered in these awards, and that’s pretty cool,” Ray Ekness said, professor and director of student success.
Professor and director of faculty affairs, Dennis Swibold agreed. “It just seems like the whole gamut of what we teach is getting national honors,” he said. “If we’re not just good, but good at lots of things, that proves we have a well-rounded program.”
SPJ set their standards high and stated that in their contests, if none of the entries received rose to a level of journalistic excellence, they would refrain from giving out that award. However, UM students rose to the challenge and received recognition in categories that covered photography, reporting, writing, radio, online and television pieces. Six of these students were selected for at least two different projects, and some even received awards in different mediums.
“To see it happening across the range is very rewarding. We’ve encouraged them to be more than one kind of journalist and it shows,” Swibold said. “Students are becoming ambidextrous and proving that they work well across different mediums.”
Swibold cited senior Sojin Josephson as the apex example for accomplishing exactly that. Josephson won in the sports writing category and was a finalist in the television feature and television general news reporting categories. Her winning piece, “Kicking and breathing: Daniel Sullivan’s body quit football, but Sullivan couldn’t quit the game,” which she wrote for the Montana Kaimin, will go on to compete at the national level.
The 14 other winners also compete at the national level against students from different regions and recognized in the same category.
Not only were students’ individual projects honored, but the SPJ recognized UM’s Student Documentary Unit and the UM News class for their collective work.
“In class, students aren’t just talking about doing journalism, they’re going out there and doing it—class work is extended beyond class,” Swibold said. “I’m proud to see the fruits of last year’s labor pay off. There’s a lot of excitement in the department right now. We’re small, but we know the students and we’re very accessible to them.”
The UM School of Journalism is currently ranked 8th in the nation and celebrated its centennial birthday in 2014. National winners in the SPJ 2015 Mark of Excellence Awards will be announced later this spring, and will be honored at the Excellence in Journalism convention in New Orleans, running from September 18th-20th.
The complete list of Region 10 SPJ awards results is available on their website.