Defender honored for union controversy coverage

By: Mark Tarnacki

The Defender, Saint Michael's College's student newspaper, earned high recognition in competition for the 2013 Mark of Excellence (MOE) Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) in the breaking-news category for its thorough and balanced reporting on a custodial union controversy on campus this past fall.

In competition among smaller colleges in the nine-state SPJ northeast region, Harvard University was the winner for coverage in the Crimson of the marathon bombing suspect search; the other finalist along with Saint Michael's that the SPJ officially recognized in this category was the student paper from Brown University in Rhode Island for its coverage of a controversial lecture cancellation and protests. Announcement of the winners came April 28.

Mikala Kane '14, this year's Defender executive editor and a senior Media Studies, Journalism and Digital Arts (MJD) major with a psychology minor from Charlton, MA, said receiving the honor "feels wonderful since we're such a small school and newspaper staff, so to be recognized from beyond campus is nice – it shows our writing affects people beyond campus."

Students sharing a byline on the story that earned this recognition along with Kane were Defender staffers Gracie Barney, Sheila Bogan, Kelsi Brett and Patrick Cope. In their report these students spoke in depth with college officials from the president's office to public relations, as well as to activist professors from both sides of the issue, along with lead union organizers, community labor activists and custodial supervisory staff.

"I thoroughly enjoyed working on the team for this coverage that five of us put together, and none of us could have done it without each other," Kane said. "A couple did reporting, a couple did the writing, a couple did the editing, and it really shows what The Defender is capable of when we all work together."

Jerry Swope and David Mindich are faculty advisers from the college MJD Department for The Defender, which publishes an issue every two weeks appearing in both print and online versions.

"It's impressive to be honored by the SPJ," said Swope. "It reflects the quality of work that our students put into this particular story and have put into our publication throughout the year. The story on the custodial issue stands out as well because the students did a great job of reporting on all sides of the issues, and on a controversial topic like this, they made sure to search for and find the facts and give all sides a voice - and that's what quality journalism is about, the kind of journalism that makes our community a better place."

Mindich said Defender students "worked very hard to produce a fair and thoroughly researched report about the custodians' push for a union. I'm very proud that the Society of Professional Journalists recognized all their good work. Also, that The Defender won alongside Harvard and Brown puts us in good company."

He also recently learned that The Defender received Honorable Mention in this year's New England Newspaper and Press Association College Newspaper of the Year competition, won by Boston College. A second-place winner and four honorable mentions also were named out of about 20 nominees this year.

The Society of Professional Journalists' MOE Awards honor the best of collegiate journalism from a calendar year. SPJ's Region 1 comprises Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. Honorees received award certificates the weekend of April 25 at the Region 1 Spring Conference in Boston. First-place winners will move on to the national MOE competition among category winners from the 12 SPJ regions.

National winners will be notified in the late spring and will be recognized at Excellence in Journalism 2014 (EIJ14) in Nashville, TN, Sept. 4 to 6. The awards are judged by professionals with at least three years of journalism experience.

The awards honor the best in student journalism. As such, judges were directed to choose only those entries which they felt were outstanding work worthy of such an honor. If the judges determined that none of the entries rose to the level of excellence, no award was given. Any category not listed has no winner.

School divisions are based on student enrollment, which includes both graduate and undergraduate enrollment: Large schools have more than 10,000 students and small schools have fewer than 9,999 students. Besides newspaper categories for various news categories, columns, editorial and photography, student journalists compete in magazine, online, radio and television categories.

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