Archive for May, 2020

Never again?

Two months since we started The CCC Awards…

…and 238 student media outlets submitted 995 entries containing 1,574 pieces of content. So did interns at 20 pro outlets, ranging from The Washington Post to New York Times to USA Today.

Since I predicted 50 entries a week and instead we averaged 140, I’d say The CCC Awards were a success. But we never want to do it again. Or to be more specific, we hope there’s no reason to ever repeat it.

Overall, 20,681 unique visitors clicked through this website 47,936 times. SPJ has decided to maintain it, and we’re offering our database of entries (with contact info removed) to those conducting research, now or in the future.

I think it’s safe to say The CCC Awards database is the most comprehensive and representative accounting of how college media covered this awful pandemic. Because the contest was both free and weekly, you can chart the coverage by day, from the Ivy League to community colleges. Even more revealing, 87 percent of entries came with comments detailing the authors’ process and motivation.

If you or someone you know wants access, email me.

Finally, The CCC Awards were notable for two more things, one more important than the other. First, this was the first time five media organizations worked together – SPJ, ACP, CBI, SND, and FIRE. I hope it’s not the last.

Second, The CCC Awards were about content, not categories. Whether it was broadcast or podcast, social or digital, radio or words, the judges only considered if the work was good. I’ve heard some accurate criticism on this point, but I think it was worth trying. Our readers, listeners, and viewers don’t think  about good content in categories, so why should we?


Meet the “winners of the winners.”

We asked our rotating cast of judges – 11 in all – to choose the best entries from among all their weekly winners.

For the past two months, trios of those judges perused each week’s entries and amiably bickered on Sunday night calls that could last well over an hour. This past Sunday night, it ended in mere minutes. There was simply no debate who wowed them.

Turns out those WOWs were as geographically diverse as their content, which included investigations from a broadcast outlet, a column from a newspaper, and a video posted to Facebook…


One college media outlet dominated The CCC Awards. And four women – Dana CassidyAngela DiMicheleKarina Elwood, and Tobie Nell Perkins – dominated the COVID-19 coverage at WUFT, the public radio and TV station based in the j-school at the University of Florida.

Thanks to them, WUFT broke news that was picked up by statewide and national media. One of our pro judges (an editor in the DC area) thought one of their ideas was so good, he used it when his newsroom worked on a similar story.

Lily Lamadrid

Let me count the days

The Portland State University student wrote about her experiences dating in the coronavirus era, and more than one judge said it was the best writing among more than 1,500 pieces of content submitted to The CCC Awards. Gushed one judge, a newspaper reporter…

I couldn’t stop reading it, and I liked it so much I texted it to my friends so we could discuss it further. It’s an excellent blend of personal essay and information sharing, and it’s one of the few coronavirus stories I’ve read that’s left me feeling hopeful. I’m so impressed.

Amanda Siew

Siew is an international student at the University of Central Oklahoma who headed home to Malaysia to wait out the pandemic with family. One judge, a broadcaster currently covering COVID-19 herself, said of Siew’s individual effort…

It’s not easy being the subject of your own story, let alone having to produce it as a video story that presents all kinds of challenges. And add to that Siew’s forced confinement, and that presents challenges even a veteran journalist would find daunting. Siew has produced a compelling video, and her Twitter feed updates as she made her way through the airport were both enlightening and equally compelling.

What they win: Each student mentioned above gets a free one-year subscription to whatever publication they want. They deserve so much more.


The last was vast.

The final round of weekly winners ranges from a column about lesbian dating during a shutdown, a pair of news stories about Asian racism and refugee struggles, a rigorous data visualization project, and a half-hour newscast featuring a macaroni-and-cheese recipe and some terrible singing.

Next week, our 11 rotating judges will select the Winners of the Winners – their favorite entries from all seven weeks of The CCC Awards. Those WOWs will receive a free subscription to whatever publication they choose.

Lily Lamadrid, PSU Vanguard

Let me count the days

Lamadrid, a student at Portland State University, isn’t the first or even fifth columnist to submit an entry about the hassles of dating while social distancing. But judges deemed it the best, saying. “It offered a unique perspective while being breathtakingly mesmerizing.”

Interestingly, Lamadrid is dating a woman named Lily, and they’ve decided…

I will change my first name’s spelling to hers, and she will take my last name. She will become Mrs. Lillie Lamadrid and I will become Mrs. Lillie Lamadrid. These are not daydreams, but certainties.

Concluded judges: “The piece mixed in general information and context about pandemic online dating, but it was Lily and Lillie who grabbed our attention.”

Peter Senzamici and Laila Maiden, New York City News Service

Judges combined two separate entries from the same amazing news service that runs out of the j-school at the City University of New York. The first is a story that ran on a site called Streetsblog, the second is a news service video, but both are tight.

In 1,200 words, Peter Senzamici interviews a doctor, business leader, and politician while citing stats from multiple sources.  And in just over two minutes, Laila Maiden wasted literally not a second interviewing three refugee experts – while she was at home.

The Red Line Project staff

Our lead judge, who’s a masochist and has been one of our trio of judges since the beginning, called this “the best data presentation we have seen.” He added, “It’s extraordinary the way the data is presented.” What impressed other judges was the multitude of ways that data was presented: animations, charts, maps, and infographics, all punctuated with multi-sourced reporting.

“The coverage was very good, but the data visualization was what made this entry shine,” they concluded.

WVU News staff

Spring 2020 – Episode 4

Our judges have watched a lot of newscasts over the past seven weeks. This was one from West Virginia University was among their favorites, partly because it was the most fun. Yes, fun in a time of tragedy. Check out the mac-and-cheese cooking-show segment and the very awful (in almost a good way) cover of  “Take Me Home, Country Roads” by a succession  of alumni sheltering at home.

“It was heartwarming to feel the connection of alums singing together, but apart,” judges said. “There is great spirit and commitment throughout this newscast.”

NEXT WEEK: The Winners of the Winners.


The Empire State strikes back.

Both winners and one honorable mention are from New York. Coincidence or conspiracy? Neither, since none of our rotating trio of judges live there, although one grew up there. It’s just how those judges ranked the 84 entries they received last week.

Shannon Miller, The Pioneer

LIU to Receive $7 Million Stimulus After Layoffs and No Refunds

Miller is the co-EIC of the paper at Long Island University Post, and her investigation earned the ultimate sign of journalistic respect: Pro journalists couldn’t figure out how she did it.

She says the story “caught the attention of ABC News, which contacted me to confirm how I found the bailout/stimulus information, and asked if I could connect them with resident students who were looking for refunds. They put together a news package, along with a digital story covering the news.”

What happened next is sadly familiar to many college journalists:  “The school responded to ABC with a statement – however, they never responded to me.” Still, Miller won because the school refunded money it had refused to pay.

Said one judge…

Her university wasn’t giving information, so she went out and got it. It’s immensely valuable to students and families who were also in the dark about a topic that affects all of their lives. Even if their university wouldn’t give them the professional courtesy of a response, the local outlet that followed up had to go to the author and ask about her sourcing, then credited them in their story. That’s a big win.

Added another: “When the school caved and gave refunds, it was only because of The Pioneer’s pioneering work on this issue.”

Ithaca College Television

Remote Newscast 4/29

Nothing is harder to watch than an awkward TV news anchor. Nothing is easier to watch than a natural one.

“Kristen Mirand might be the most refined anchor we’ve seen on any college newscast,” said our lead judge, who’s been among our rotating trio since the beginning. “She’s prepared and comfortable, displaying a truly natural presence.”

Indeed, Mirand seems as comfortable in her living room as other anchors do in a studio. But it wasn’t all about her.

“It’s very obvious this staff learned to adapt to a new working environment and seems to be doing it with ease,” said another judge. “This is an impressive amount of reporting. I’ve reviewed other broadcast pieces that were nowhere near as informative. This news staff doesn’t B.S., keeps the show short, and does their jobs.”

NY City News Service

“Sometimes, letting a source speak – and standing aside – is the best way to tell a story and capture the person’s thinking,” judges said. But not always…

All three pieces give us insight into how people are coping. But the videographers in the two feature pieces don’t stand and observe. They move through each person’s life with them. The second piece about financial-services employee Maria Chambers was superb and had the feel of a short film, with a wonderful opening and closing – literally.

The other two pieces – a video and audio slideshow – from students at CUNY’s j-school reveal the lives of a young Brooklyn data manager with two roommates and a Bronx ER worker who’s recovering from COVID-19.

Carson TerBush and Vivek Rao, Indiana Daily Student

Pandemic playbook: How UITS took IU online

All three judges loved the lede: “If you watched recordings of all the IU-affiliated Zoom calls from March 9, it would take eight months of nonstop streaming. If you watched all the calls from March 30, the first day of online class after the novel coronavirus outbreak forced IU’s classes online for the duration of the spring semester, it would take four years.”

Judges said…

This story is packed full of beautifully presented information. Not only does it use data to tell stories in a way that I would say is uncommon for many college media outlets, but includes a narrative that puts that data into context.

Added one judge: “The highest praise I can give this article is that as a professional journalist, I’m going to go to work tomorrow and start collecting similar data to recreate this story for my community.”

Julia Arwine, Abby Bammerlin, Hannah Horsington, The Miami Student Magazine

The unfolding of a global pandemic

“We began this story before we knew how it would end,” Arwine told judges. The news editor for the magazine at Miami University of Ohio was handed the semester’s cover story but was clear about sharing credit…

My fellow reporters Abby Bammerlin and Hannah Horsington helped me to balance interviews and research with the upheaval we were all experiencing. I wrote the story, but could not have done it without their help. Together, we gathered student, teacher and administrative perspectives to capture the sense of disruption this pandemic has caused and talk about it on a deeper level than a traditional news article would allow for.

The judges were impressed with the entire package. “The writing and editing are sharp, and the presentation is enhanced with timeline graphics,” one said. “This was a good read, in the style of a tick-tock piece after the first few news cycles after a major event. It has a nice range of voices, including an opening source who can tie Miami of Ohio to Wuhan, the ground zero of COVID-19.”

Your last chance to enter The CCC Awards is this Friday at 11:59:59 p.m. in whatever time zone you’re sheltering in.


We’ve combined designs.

Most design entries have done something good, but none have excelled at everything.

And it’s probably our fault. Reporting and writing are difficult enough while sheltering at home hundreds or even thousands of miles from campus. Trying to meet our tough design requirements might be impossible.

The problem is that award-winning design isn’t just pretty or newsy. It’s both. The Society for News Design, which judges these entries, chooses each winner based on “how well it accomplishes its editorial and design objectives.”

That’s separate from purely visual excellence, which we’ve recognized before.

So we’re combining three weeks worth of entries and splitting each winner between two media outlets – because if we could merge their efforts, they’d be downright stunning. If that doesn’t make sense, we explain below.

The Red & Black staff

April 23, 2020 Special Issue

Kunal Mehta and Marci Suela, Spartan Daily

Vol. 154, April 23, 2020

Several college newspapers have published special COVID-19 print editions, which were available on Issuu. Page for page, perhaps none is cleaner and better than The Red & Black’s April 23 edition for its University of Georgia audience.

Coincidentally, that’s the same day the Spartan Daily did the same for its readers at San Jose State University. But here’s the challenge: If you’re going to essentially print a traditional newspaper online, you need to squeeze the only advantage newsprint still has. Namely, the sheer size of the canvas.

The Red & Black’s special edition starts strong with an illustrated cover that artistically captures social distancing, and each page is constructed at a pro level. But most of those inside pages resemble each other, and the photos, illustrations, and graphics would be just as easily consumed in more contemporary online formats.

What The Red & Black needed was some of what the Spartan Daily has done.

Check out the full-page infographic written by Kunal Mehta and designed by Marci Suela. Work like that will keep newsprint relevant, simply because it’s (not yet) easily transported to a phone or even a laptop. If print survives, it’ll need more of both The Red & Black and Spartan Daily.

Ben Korn and Lizzy Rueppel, The Michigan Daily

While in quarantine, here’s what University of Michigan Professors recommend

Kristen Grau, University Press Online

How many college students and faculty in Florida have had COVID-19?

University of Michigan writer Ben Korn said exactly what journalism judges love to hear, especially after they’ve reviewed dozens of nearly identical entries for the past three weeks: “We approached this project differently then we would a typical news story.”

Crediting “amazing graphic designer” Lizzy Rueppel, Korn explained…

We were inspired to make “Spotify profile” cards for each professor, reminiscent of how students actually use their music. Then we rolled the project out over social media, highlighting a few professors “profile cards” each day and directing readers to see the full list on our website.

It was hands-down the best social-media design we’ve seen in weeks. But what if that pro-level design was matched with powerful news reporting instead of book recommendations from professors? At Florida Atlantic University, Kristen Grau used Instagram – and only Instagram – to show how inconsistent (and frankly sketchy) Florida’s public universities have been about reporting COVID-19 cases.

“I hope Florida students and faculty view the case numbers and their student population with skepticism and push for more transparency,” Grau told judges. “It’s important to release these numbers and keep digging for this information.”

If Michigan and FAU ever joined forces, they’d own collegiate journalism on Instagram. That might sound like so-what praise, but journalism needs to go where the people are, and there are more than 120 million Instagram users in this country.

Your last chance to enter The CCC Awards is this Friday at 11:59:59 p.m. in whatever time zone you’re sheltering in.



Twitter Facebook RSS Instagram LinkedIn

© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 • Fax: 317/920-4789 • Contact SPJ HeadquartersEmployment OpportunitiesAdvertise with SPJ