Meet the best college journalists in the South.

They’re the 2013 winners of the College Top 10, a unique journalism contest run by SPJ’s Green Eyeshade Awards – itself a unique contest.

For more than 60 years, the Green Eyeshades has recognized the best pro media work in the southern United States. It’s one of the oldest regional journalism contests in the nation. But until now, it never honored the best college journalists below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Instead of simply rewarding one good story on one particular topic, the Green Eyeshades sought the best students who were consistently good at one thing. They had to submit multiple pieces on a single subject.

Alas, the judges couldn’t find 10 – the categories for music and movie coverage have no winners this year. Those entries simply didn’t tingle the judges’ toes. But they were downright enthusiastic about the other eight.

Here they are…

Roberto Roldan

Best feature writer: Roberto Roldan

Judging comment: Every college journalist who complains, “There aren’t any interesting students on this campus” should be beaten with a baseball bat by Roberto Roldan, who finds a migrant worker going to business school, another student mentoring an orphan, and an alumnus creating installation art in impoverished areas. Better yet, Roldan’s whiny, lazy peers should just pay him for story ideas.

Roldan’s comment: The most difficult, but also most rewarding, part of feature writing is always the interview. With human interest pieces, you get the opportunity to connect with sources in a way that’s really different from more combative interviews journalists do on a daily basis.

When your source is telling you very private stories and you’re holding back tears of anguish or joy, trying to remain composed and professional, you know the story you have is going to be good. Building good enough rapport with your source that they’ll share things with a complete stranger that they’ve never shared with their closest friends – that’s the hard part.

Gregory Rawls

Best sports reporter: Gregory Rawls

Judging comment: He can write a gamer, but then again, so can a lot of college sportswriters. Rawls, however, shows an interest in more than the score. Whether he’s succinctly explaining a disastrous season record for the football team or profiling a Nigerian  basketball player, Rawls strives for reasons and not stats.

Rawls’ comment: Nowadays, when people can find the scores for games via an app on their phones, game coverage can pose some difficulty. For a school newspaper that only runs twice per week, the major difficulty of covering sports is finding new ways to make an already known story interesting.

Additionally, it’s sometimes hard for me, personally, to remove my excitement when covering a game objectively – not impossible per se. But these minor issues are nothing compared to the delight of being able to write about something I am passionate about.

Sports are an amazing way to bring people together and distract us from the worries and troubles of everyday, monotonous life. To help get a sports conversation started with a good feature or a play-by-play story is a rewarding experience for a sports writer.

Best designer: Kristmar Muldrow

Judging comment: Too many young designers are afraid of their freedom. Big photos make them nervous and negative space is scary. Muldrow embraces both and throws in large typography for good measure. Her designs are simple and clean and without high-tech tricks. Those are traits of a designer who can work quickly and efficiently while still impressing readers and luring them to the text.

Muldrow’s comment: I have always loved to tinker with things, whether it’s a drawing, an instrument, or a design. One of the challenges of newspaper design is tinkering at high speed, ironing out details on tight deadlines.

Claire DodsonBest science writer: Claire Dodson

Judging comment: Nothing flashy here – no whimsical infographics or swirly multimedia animations to explain complex topics. Dodson just writes straightforwardly about the research and science being conducted and presented on her campus. But not even halfway through each of her ledes, you feel her passion for her topics, and by the end, you’ve learned something without ever feeling like you were being taught. And that’s high praise for any journalist.

Dodson’s comment: When I cover science and research, I see myself as both interpreter and storyteller. You have to pull out the interesting and relatable parts of someone else’s work and then piece the facts together to create a picture of that person or that discovery.

I love going to a lecture or profiling a researcher and figuring out why their work is so important to them – their passion is just as important as the work they do. So much character and personality sneaks beneath a university research press release.

RJ Vogt

Best columnist: RJ Vogt

Judging comment: Vogt is willing to suffer for his craft, training for a fraternity boxing tournament. And he’s willing to go national (a compelling take on the Trayvon Martin killing) and personal (contemplating his sister’s wedding). Too many college columnists are guarded in their opinions and narrow in their focus. Vogt doesn’t seem afraid of anything or any topic.

Vogt’s comment: There’s something intoxicating about the opportunity to write down your experiences and personal opinions, some wild freedom in the manifestation of free thought. But I’ve always maintained that a good opinion is based in fact.

In every column I write, I strive to base my writing off the truth around me. A column is not a license to scribble across a page – it’s a privilege to interpret reality. Interpret with style and flair and passion, but never deviate from the truth. It’s the University of Tennessee’s motto: “The truth shall set you free.”

Ryan Murphy
Best photographer: Ryan Murphy

Judging comment: The only entry to feature three photos of no one smiling or even enjoying themselves. Whether it’s a diligent track athlete training, a crushed football coach hiding in his hands, or a child protester peering over a handmade sign, Murphy captures intense moments.

Murphy’s comment: The most rewarding part of photography for me is the wide variety of work you can do. From portraits to landscapes, news to sports. I don’t like to specialize in any one category, preferring to take on any assignment I can. Learning (and in some cases making it up) as I go. Sometimes the unknown can be difficult, but that’s part of the fun.

Photography is never boring. No matter what the assignment, there’s always something new to try – a different angle or a different technique.

Daniel Jansouzian
Best Student Government reporter: Daniel Jansouzian

Judging comment: Covering SG is the most important and least sexy beat in college media. Fact is, if college media doesn’t report on the millions (and yes, it’s millions) of dollars that SGs spend, no one else will. Jansouzian does the important and unsexy work with clarity and simplicity, explaining complex concepts to readers in plain English.

Daniel’s comment: One of the greatest joys of covering SGA was the connections I made with people, not only in coverage of student government, but in other areas of campus. The SGA members were involved in student organizations, Greek life, campus jobs, and sports. So knowing them as a reporter turned out to be a huge advantage for me.

A difficult aspect of covering SGA came at the end of summer 2013, when the executive vice president-elect was arrested for the possession and manufacturing of marijuana. I knew SGA members would not want to go on record about it. Still, I had to put aside my personal feelings and do the best reporting I could.

Thad Moore

Best administration reporter: Thad Moore

Judging comment: From questionable calls by the administration after a rape report to old facilities affecting pharmacy students to an analysis of the school’s past five years, Moore eschews flash for substance. Administrators often try to defuse the news by confusing young reporters. Moore cuts through.

Moore’s comment: Covering a university’s administration can be dry — lots of audits, budget documents, and all-day board meetings — especially when football games and Greek Life stories attract readers. But it’s rewarding to dig up stories that matter to students and tell them in a way that captures their attention, and I think that’s the value of the beat.

Think you can do better? Enter the College Top 10 next year and prove it. Questions? Email me.

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