College Top 10


Meet the best college journalists in the South.

They’re the 2014 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.

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, this year’s entries were terrible, except for a handful. Below are those few.

The judges didn’t declare winners in half the categories: design, movies, music, science, and sports. Why? Because nearly all the entries were solid and safe and just good enough. And that’s not what this contest is about – nor is “solid and safe” how you pursue a fulfilling career. Unless, of course, you want to work for 40 years to be “just good enough.”

Here are the winners who rebelled to excel…

Dylan Bouscher, Florida Atlantic University

Best Student Government reporter: Dylan Bouscher

Judging comment: This was tough: Reward one of the reporters who quite capably and incrementally covered SGA but never took a risk? Or recognize the only reporter who shot for the moon and hit the target, albeit with a glancing blow? Dylan Bouscher was the only entrant to feature video, which is novel because SGA is not a beat that lends itself to alluring B roll. The results were as good as one could reasonably expect. As for content, Bouscher tried mightily to explain complex topics, not always successfully. But he’s a reacher, and he’ll eventually eclipse his peers who are too timid to fail – and thus will never learn and excel.

Boucher’s comment: Growing up, I hated being told no. Once I started covering Florida Atlantic University’s Student Government and administration, that changed. Being told no to interview and records requests, from students and administrators whose paychecks I helped fund, only unleashed my passion and curiosity for watchdog reporting further. But my best stories didn’t result from hostility. They came from leveling with people: students and classmates trusting me to be human about the corruption and mismanagement. Doing that made working for the student newspaper by far the most fun and enlightening aspect of my college experience.

Max Jackson, Florida Atlantic University

Best photographer: Max Jackson

Judging comment: I judged this category last year and had the same problems this year: Great photogs who shoot the same darn thing everyday. Attention next year’s applicants: Take a hint from Jackson. He sent in a perfectly passable (no pun intended) pic of a quarterback looking downfield, but he also submitted a moving portrait of a dwarf at a medical marijuana debate – not your typical assignment. His third photo was the opposite – the school’s mascot with a bunch of kids. That’s usually a shoot and scoot, but Jackson captures a great moment, and his technical skills are beyond dispute.

Jackson’s comment: One of the most rewarding aspects of photography is that ability to capture a moment in time that will never occur quite the same way again, which I think many photographers would agree with. Each time I pick up my camera there is no certainty of what I will capture, whether it is the winning touchdown, or getting the perfect golden hour.  On the other side of that, is the knowledge that you need to “nail this shot” because there are no reshoots in live action photography. This passion I have developed, almost an addiction, has and continues to take me places that I never could have imagined the first time I held a DSLR.

Hannah Jeffrey, University of South Carolina

Best feature writer: Hannah Jeffrey

Judging comment: A surprisingly strong category – and from what I hear from other judges, the only one. The winner in this close race was Jeffrey, and not for any major philosophical reason like the other category judges have remarked. It’s simply that Jeffrey did the best across the board: She found fascinating people, got them to talk like normal people, and wrote about them for all people. It’s also interesting how she keeps her articles short and punchy, using subheads to great effect and generally eschewing the feature writer’s penchant for look-at-me composition and length. A humble feature writer!

Jeffrey’s comment: I’d argue features are the most satisfying yet most difficult kind of stories to write. Your reporting has to be thorough and extensive or else you won’t get the whole story — the feature interviews I’ve done that stick out have lasted a a few hours, at least. But features are all about picking out the good stuff, giving some color and making people care. You could hear a story, think “that’s a great story” and move on. But if it’s a really great story, it deserves details and attention.

Roberto Roldan, University of South Florida

Best administration reporter: Roberto Roldan

Judging comment: A disappointing category doesn’t mean the winner is disappointing. Roldan is unafraid to take on administrators, whether it’s questioning how they hide tuition hikes or hide expenditures behind “direct support organizations.” Roldan does a yeoman’s job explaining complex topics without oversimplifying or sensationalizing. Other entries in this category tackled big and important topics, but they failed in the execution: lacking clear narratives with impenetrable background. It’s not the reporting that’s so hard in government reporting, it’s the explanation – the why should I care? Roldan simply answers that question better than his peers.

Roldan’s comment: As journalists we talk a lot about holding those in power accountable, but a lot of times we relegate our time to stories that are safe, don’t piss people off and are quick turn around for the 24/7 news cycle. Most of my stories that dealt with issues of transparency and accountability in student government and university offices fell on deaf ears (so it goes), but one or two stories caused administrators to make measurable changes toward increased transparency — the ultimate reward for good journalism.

Cassidy Alexander, University of North Florida

Best columnist: Cassidy Alexander

Judging comment: Too many columnists are timid, both in topic and tone. Alexander is willing to mock a city council president (for his objection to a nude picture in a contemporary art museum) and riffing of her school’s attempt to create traditions. (“The university seems to have missed a very important point – a tradition is not something you can just compose into a list and announce at a party.”) She’s also willing to build from there, adding creative thinking to breezy writing.

Alexander’s comment: I see columns as opportunities to interpret the news for an audience that doesn’t always have the time or the background knowledge to do it for themselves. Bad things happen every day when people don’t understand what’s going on. It’s my responsibility to my audience to make things as clear as possible for them, no matter how daunting the topic is. When I’m mad about something and my writing makes someone else angry too, I’ve done my job. That’s what change happens.

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

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