Senior Samantha Schmidt won the Hearst Journalism Awards Program’s national writing championships, the organization announced in a ceremony June 5 in San Francisco.
Junior Hannah Fleace earned third place. IU duplicated its 2014 performance, finishing first in the writing championship and fifth overall when all divisions of the contest, including photojournalism, multimedia, broadcast, radio and the writing competition, were compiled.
“Winning this award while sitting at a table with some of my best friends and mentors, in my favorite city in the world, was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Schmidt said. “It’s pretty amazing to be rewarded for telling stories and doing what I love.”
In addition to Schmidt and Fleace, IU’s Evan Hoopfer, Megan Jula and Michael Majchrowicz competed along with three students from other universities. All eight had won or amassed points in the Hearst program’s monthly writing contests to earn their spots in the championships.
In San Francisco, the finalists attended press conferences and conducted interviews as they reported and wrote three stories, including an on-the-spot piece. Judges evaluated their work to determine the winners.
For the on-the-spot story, students were charged with looking at the California drought’s effects in San Francisco. Schmidt located a ranching family 55 miles away and set out at 5 a.m. to get their story.
“I spent the day with the owner’s 75-year-old father, who grew up on the ranch,” Schmidt said. “He drove me around their beautiful, hilly acres of land and talked to me for about four hours. He told me about his life growing up on the ranch and taught me all about the water systems and challenges involved with raising grass-fed cattle.”
The students faced a tight deadline to produce and submit their stories. Professor of practice Tom French, who has served as a mentor or instructor for most of the competitors, understands the pressure of the Hearst championships. As an undergraduate, French, BA’81, placed second in the Hearst.
“It’s a tremendous achievement for a student to win first place in the writing championship,” he said. “They’re competing under extremely difficult circumstances, scrambling to report and write three complex stories under a surrealistically intense deadline, knowing all the while that they’re up against the country’s best of the best. Our students have shown that they thrive under that pressure.”
To get to the championships, Schmidt and the other finalists submitted their previously published work to the program’s five monthly writing contests conducted December through April. They earned points in profile, enterprise, sports, breaking news and features divisions. Those who won first place automatically received invitations to the finals; the other four slots were open to students who amassed points through non-first place wins.
During the course of the monthly contests, Schmidt won the enterprise category for “Caught in the Gray Zone,” and Fleace won personality/profile for “Miner and Mother.” Hoopfer won second place for “Sold, Not Told,” Jula won breaking news for the second year in a row for “Woman Sentenced to 20 Years,” and Majchrowicz won third place for “The Guardian.”
The IU students’ work was published in the Indiana Daily Student, with the exception of Fleace’s story, which appeared in the Dubois County Herald, where she was an intern. French credited his fellow journalism professors as well as the IDS and its editors for contributions to the students’ success. Both Hoopfer and Majchrowicz were editors-in-chief this past academic year when the award-winning pieces were produced.
“This is a great moment for Indiana journalism and for all of the excellent young journalists who have come out of our program over the decades,” French said. “We are intensely proud of Sam and our four other finalists. All of them went out onto the streets of San Francisco and delivered beautifully reported, urgently written stories. We brought our own starting five to San Francisco, and they soared.”
In the monthly competition and in the championships, students won scholarships valued according to their places in each contest; schools received matching grants. In the championships, Schmidt won $5,000 and Fleace $3,000. The second place winner, Cody Stavenhagen of Oklahoma State, won $4,000, and the other five competitors each received $1,500. IU received $10,000 for first place in the writing championship.
In addition to the first and third place honors, and the school’s overall success in the championships, Schmidt’s story, “Caught in the Gray Zone,” was honored for Best Reporting Technique, and Fleace’s story, “Miner and Mother,” was named Story of the Year. Each received $1,000 for those honors.
Media School Dean James Shanahan attended some of the week’s activities, a first for the school’s founding dean who officially began his duties May 1.
“IU’s success in the Hearst writing competition is a fine reminder that writing remains and always will remain at the core of journalism when done right,” he said. “I’m very proud that our students and faculty have brought recognition to our program, especially as journalism moves within the exciting new context of The Media School. If we do only thing, it will be to preserve and enhance our ability to nurture students’ writing.”
- Writing competition judges were Arthur Brisbane, a retired publisher and corporate executive for Knight-Ridder newspapers; Nicole Carroll, the vice president for news and the executive editor at the Arizona Republic; and Mike Lear, the editor of the San Antonio Express-News.
- In the 2015 overall rankings, the top five schools were North Carolina, first place; Western Kentucky, second; Arizona State, third; Nebraska, fourth; Indiana University, fifth.
- In 2015, IU placed 10th in the championship’s photojournalism division.
- Jula and Majchrowicz also competed in the national finals in 2014, when IU sent four students to the finals. No one won a top prize that year, but IU finished first in the writing competition and fifth overall.
- IU has had success in the past in the Hearst competition. In 2013, Charles Scudder, BAJ’14, won the national writing competition, and, in 2011, Danielle Paquette, BAJ’11, won first and Caitlin Johnston, BAJ’11, took second place. Several students have competed as finalists in the national championships over the last seven years, and IU has won first place overall in the writing championships four of the last six years.
- The Hearst Journalism Awards Program is conducted under the auspices of accredited schools of the Association of Schools of Journalism and Mass Communication and fully funded and administered by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation. The program awards up to $500,000 in scholarships and grants annually.