An embarrassment of excellence.

A radio and TV station publishes a 1,600-word story with no audio or video. The nation’s richest school writes about its poorest students. And two state rivals are co-winners.

Thus concludes Week 1 of The CCC Awards.

Our trio of judges was supposed to choose only one winner and a couple of honorable mentions. But since the first week was open to all previous coverage, the judges struggled to parse 258 entries from 125 student media outlets. So they insisted on four winners – and four honorable mentions.

In no particular order…

Angela DiMichele, WUFT News

Stuck In Peru: Coronavirus Strands Gainesville Woman Far From Home

The University of Florida senior and reporter for the school’s NPR/PBS affiliate wrote the judges’ favorite profile. And she did write it. There’s no video or audio.

DiMichele profiled a local yoga instructor who got stranded in Peru. It was actually one of many such profiles – in fact, one of two about people stuck in Peru. (The other won an honorable mention, see below.) But as the judges said…

The story works well because the writer, using WhatsApp for a video interview, has clearly asked the kind of questions that yield the best material – about the instructor’s nomad life, her best friend, her bathtub-turned-laundry-tub.

Conclusion: If a TV station can write an award-winning profile, maybe newspapers can produce award-winning video.

The Michigan Daily staff

There’s individual effort, and then there’s team variety. The University of Michigan’s newspaper impressed judges for both its depth and range. Let’s face it, they saw dozens of similar submissions…

There were a lot of stories about how sad and/or angry students were about school shutting down, and what they would lose. But this collection of mini-portraits was the deepest, because ample space was given to students to tell their stories in their own words.

Then there was the typical why-are-students-still-partying-during-a-pandemic story. While not flashily written, it was massively reported. Finally, there were some laughs: An Instagram post called BlueJean Bingo, what the judges called “a fun look at the life of distance learning.” While BlueJean is this school’s videoconferencing software of choice, anyone who’s endured a clumsy online meeting will relate.

Conclusion: Writing is important. But if your sources are articulate, let them talk. And it’s OK to make wry observations even during a tragedy.

Focal Point News staff

Focal Point 3/20/20

Video submissions for the debut of The CCC Awards ranged from gritty to slick. Michigan State’s 21-minute newscast wasn’t the only one dedicated to COVID-19’s impact on its campus and community (see: Arizona State University). But it edged out the competition for its all-around exceptionalism.

One of our three judges has decades of broadcast experience and was “impressed by everything”…

The team produced a polished, professional special report, tight and well-edited in a package of 22 minutes. The stories flow well from one to another, the result of good scripting. The camera work and editing were strong, with a variety of images. Viewers met a retiring MSU prof, an MSU student pulled home from a South Korean study-away program, seniors bereft at ending their MSU days early, a sidelined sports announcer, a concerned priest, and harried shoppers.

Conclusion: Production values are just a process. Journalism is the goal.

The Harvard Crimson staff

This could’ve been boring: Three double bylines, all focused on finances. Instead, “All three parts were smart, sound journalism,” the judges said.

Harvard has the largest endowment of any school at $40 billion – more than the GDP of Iceland and the Bahamas combined. So it might seem like the definition of a First World problem to fret over its investments. But The Crimson did a first-rate job explaining what could be “the beginning of a death spiral.”

Then the numbers got smaller. Crimson reporters peered at the financial insecurity of campus security guards. And in the best-written and most touching story, they focused on the 20 percent of Harvard students who rely on financial aid. COVID-19 has already hit them hard, even if they never contract the disease.

Conclusion: Follow the money, even during a pandemic. Especially during a pandemic.

In no particular order…

Gabriela Miranda, her own thing

COVID-19 Perspectives

The University of Georgia junior is a news editor at The Red & Black, the school’s independent student newspaper. But this website is her very personal project.

“On my own accord, I contacted individuals abroad to tell their stories of how the COVID-19 outbreak has affected them,” Miranda wrote us. “This series is a passion of mine – to share the outlook of not only Americans but those abroad on how this virus affects each of us and just how similarly or differently.”

The judges were equally passionate about recognizing her noteworthy and newsworthy individual effort.

Christopher Connors, The Whit

The news/graphics editor at New Jersey’s Rowan University wrote two stories that impressed his EIC so much, she entered them. Both impressed our judges…

Connors’ first article focuses on some study abroad students trying to return from Italy. The second article is about a pair of alums visiting Peru who were told to leave. His reporting attracted the attention of U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, who then intervened. This is outstanding work.

Pauline Senet, Imprimatur

France’s homeless: the forgotten faces of the lockdown

Senet is a first-year masters student at the Insitut de Journlisme Bordeaux Acquitaine in southwestern France. This entry was submitted by her professor, who called it “a powerful piece about caretakers working with homeless people in Dijon. Her article highlights the challenges of writing a humane interest story while fully respecting social distancing measures.” From 4,000 miles away, the judges wholeheartedly agreed.

Naomi Andu and Sami Sparber, Texas Tribune

Andu is from Northwestern University and Sparber is from University of Texas at Austin. As interns at the Texas Tribune – the state’s only member-supported, digital-first, nonpartisan news outlet – they found discrepancies in the way COVID-19 cases were being recorded. The story ends with an easy-to-fill-out form for readers to tell their own stories.

Then Sparber found similiar discrepancies about “essential” businesses. Said the judges…

Both of these stories were examples of good watchdog reporting. The need for accurate information is essential when a government reacts to a crisis. Sparber and Andu showed how poorly that was happening in Texas, and why it was a problem.

So what do they win?

Their work shared far and wide, a free membership to SPJ, a CCC Awards badge or banner for their website if they want it, a laudatory letter to a skeptical dean or boss – and the chance to win again.

That’s right, each winner can win again. The CCC Awards are free and weekly, and no excellence is excused. So…

Defending the First Amendment and promoting open government are more crucial now than ever. Join SPJ's fight for the public’s right to know — either as an SPJ Supporter or a professional, student or retired journalist.

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