ASU students dominate regional journalist contest

For the 18th consecutive year, Cronkite School students have prevailed at the regional Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards competition


May 4, 2018

For the 18th year in a row, students at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication dominated the regional Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards competition.

Cronkite students won 41 awards, one more than the combined total of the second-place, third-place and fourth-place schools in the SPJ Region 11 Contest. They took home 13 first-place awards and 28 finalist honors. Cronkite student Lillian Donahue was among the winners in the Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards competition for Region 11. Download Full Image

Over the past decade, Cronkite students have tallied 458 awards in the contest, the most of any journalism program in the region, which includes Arizona, California, Guam, Hawaii, Northern Mariana Islands and Nevada. 

“We’re very proud of our students and the faculty who guide them,” said Kristin Gilger, senior associate dean of the Cronkite School. “They consistently produce work that not only wins contests but informs and educates readers and viewers all over the state and region.”

The Cronkite School swept four SPJ categories: broadcast sports videography, online/digital sports videography, online opinion and commentary, and television sports reporting. 

Cronkite News, the student-produced news division of Arizona PBS, produced winning entries for the sweeps in broadcast sports videography and television sports reporting. In all, Cronkite News collected 24 awards. Stories included in-depth coverage of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and the 2017 NCAA Men’s Final Four.

Students also were recognized for “Querétaro: Promise of Prosperity for Mexico,” a multimedia reporting project that examined the complicated relationship between the U.S. and its southern neighbor. The project, which sent 20 students to one of the smallest states in Mexico, won in the broadcast news videography category and was a finalist in two other categories.

Hooked Rx: From Prescription to Addiction” took two awards — in online news reporting and online in-depth reporting — for an examination of the growing opioid epidemic in Arizona. The project included a dozen digital stories as well as a documentary that aired on all major broadcast TV stations in the state and reached 900,000 people.

ASU’s student-run media organizations also performed well in the contest. The Downtown Devil, an online publication focused on Phoenix and the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, was named the best independent online student publication and had two finalist honors in online opinion and commentary. The State Press, ASU’s student news outlet, took first place in online opinion and commentary and was a finalist in online/digital sports videography and sports column writing.

This year’s regional awards were presented at the SPJ Region 11 Conference in Los Angeles on April 28. Winners of the 12 regional SPJ competitions go on to another round of judging in the national SPJ competition. Those winners will be announced at the Excellence in Journalism conference in Baltimore Sept. 27–29.

The Society of Professional Journalists is the nation’s most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ has nearly 10,000 members.

The complete list of Cronkite’s regional SPJ winners:  

Best Independent Online Student Publication         

Winner: Staff of Downtown Devil 

Breaking News Photography (Large) 10,000+ Students      

Winner: Dustin Quiroz, “Peace please,” Cronkite News 

Broadcast Feature Videography       

Winner: Kristina Vicario, Louisa Stanwich and Allie Barton, “MANZO

Broadcast News Videography           

Winner: Lillian Donahue, “Trade drives rise of middle class in Mexico,” Querétaro: Promise of Prosperity for Mexico 

Broadcast Sports Videography         

Winner: Tyler Paley, “Fighting for Fearlessness,” Cronkite News

Finalist : Sydney Cariel, “Forrest Snow: Ball player by day, musician by night,” Cronkite News 

Finalist: Troy Lynch, “Swimming helps horses for race day,” Cronkite News

Online/Digital News Videography    

Winner: Melanie Abramoff, “Unstable ground in Pinal County,” Cronkite News

Online/Digital Sports Videography

Winner: Zac Pacleb, “GCU's Russell gets 'one shining moment' on Final Four floor,” Cronkite News

Finalist: Blake Benard, “A unique approach to training,” Cronkite News

Finalist: Luis Torres, “ASU wins triathlon championship at home,” The State Press

Online Feature Reporting     

Winner: Kristina Vicario, “From right-hand man to a boss named Lefty,” Medium

Finalist: Lillian Donahue, “75 years later, family able to honor USS Oklahoma sailor killed in Pearl Harbor attack,” Hawaii News Now

Online News Reporting         

Winner: Ryan Santistevan and Ben Moffat, “Opioid overdose deaths continue to mount,” Hooked Rx: From Prescription to Addiction 

Finalist: Megan Janetsky and Johanna Huckeba, “Mexicans work to reclaim corn as their own,” Querétaro: Promise of Prosperity for Mexico

Online Opinion & Commentary        

Winner: State Press Editorial Board, “Charlie Rose’s actions do not reflect excellence in journalism

Finalist: Ryan Boyd, “Phoenix Rising” columns, Downtown Devil 

Finalist: Faith Miller and Serena O'Sullivan, “Curtain Critic” columns, Downtown Devil

Radio In-Depth Reporting     

Winner: Adrienne St. Clair, “Mexicans and Americans – A complicated relationship,” Cronkite News 

Finalist: Adrienne St. Clair and Andrew Nicla, “In focus: DACA special report,” Cronkite News

Television In-Depth Reporting

Winner: Lillian Donahue, “Trade drives rise of middle class in Mexico,” Querétaro: Promise of Prosperity for Mexico

Television Sports Reporting

Winner: Tyler Paley, “Fighting for fearlessness,” Cronkite News

Finalist: Kelly Broderick, “Ability360 uses basketball to inspire amputees,” Cronkite News

Finalist: Troy Lynch, “Swimming makes horses better prepared for racing,” Cronkite News 

Best All-Around Television Newscast          

Finalist: Maya Patrose, Chase Boeke and Jade Nicole Yeban, Cronkite News: Nov. 16, 2017 newscast

Best Use of Multimedia        

Finalist: Cassie Ronda, “Opioids and the body: the science of an overdose,” Cronkite News

Feature Photography (Large) 10,000+ Students      

Finalist: Johanna Huckeba, “What's one more?” Cronkite News 

Online In-Depth Reporting    

Finalist: Sophia Kunthara, “NAFTA changes would affect both sides of the border,” Querétaro: Promise of Prosperity for Mexico

Finalist: Joshua Bowling, “Arizona’s emergency rooms have treated thousands of addicts hooked on opioids,” Hooked Rx: From Prescription to Addiction 

Online Sports Reporting        

Finalist: Brittany Bowyer, “The flipside of cheerleading: a prevalence of catastrophic injuries,” Cronkite News 

Online/Digital Feature Videography

Finalist: Blake Hemmel, “Innovative farming: Harvesting exotic plants in the Southwest,” Cronkite News

Finalist: Kristina Vicario, “From right-hand man to a boss named Lefty,” Medium

Radio Feature

Finalist: Roddy Nikpour, “In focus: Social media memorialization and ‘cybergraves,’” Cronkite News

Finalist: Ben Flores and Tea Francesca Price, “In focus: Service dog helps navigate life with autism,” Cronkite News

Radio News Reporting          

Finalist: Freesia DeNaples and Tea Francesca Price, “In focus: What defunding Planned Parenthood could mean for Arizonans,” Cronkite News 

Sports Column Writing         

Finalist: Paul Slobodzian, “ASU football should be able to attract top recruits; Phoenix is not the place to be for seasoned sports fans; CTE will be the end of football,” The State Press

Sports Photography (Large) 10,000+ Students

Finalist: Blake Benard, “Barry Bonds remains center of attention in return to alma mater,” Arizona Sports 

Television Breaking News Reporting

Finalist: Fortesa Latifi, “Steve Bannon comes to Tucson, hundreds protest,” Cronkite News 

Television Feature Reporting

Finalist: Adriana De Alba, “Agricultural program helps Navajo students on reservation,” Cronkite News 

Finalist: Sydney Isenberg, “Firefighters train to pass annual physical fitness test,” Cronkite News

Television General News Reporting 

Finalist: Drew Marine, “Battle over bison,” Cronkite News

ASU Online student, and military spouse, graduates thanks to Starbucks College Achievement Plan


May 4, 2018

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2018 commencement

When Melanie Wood started taking classes at a community college right out of high school, she thought it would be a good opportunity to get the basics out of the way. Not knowing which direction she wanted to go, however, Wood eventually dropped out of school, got married and started her family. Melanie Wood and her husband, Patrick, a store manager with Starbucks. Download Full Image

Her husband joined the Army after they got married, and Wood spent the next 15 years moving as the Army relocated their family and supporting her husband through two deployments in Iraq.

It wasn’t until after her husband retired from military service that Wood was introduced to an opportunity that would allow her to focus on reaching her goals.

“As military spouses, we put our careers and everything else on hold because you continue to pack up and move. While his career was progressing, I was always starting over,” Wood said. “When he retired, it was time for me, for my growth and development, to do what I wanted to do in life.”

That became easier after Wood’s husband, Patrick, took a job with Starbucks and learned about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan (a partnership between Starbucks and Arizona State University that grants employees full tuition reimbursement when enrolled through ASU Online). And in Wood’s case, since her husband was a veteran, the benefit was extended to her as well.

“Patrick has been with Starbucks for three years now, and learned about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan after starting with the company. He already had a degree and therefore didn’t qualify, but for me, this benefit was amazing,” she said.

It is because of the Starbucks College Achievement Plan, and its inclusion of veterans’ family members, that15 years after leaving school, Wood is graduating with her bachelor’s degree in family and human development from Arizona State University.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in? 

Answer: That moment came when I first started applying to ASU Online. The very first person I spoke with was my enrollment coach, and they got the ball rolling for me. When I first started thinking about majors, it was a toss-up between family and human development, sociology, or going a completely different route and getting a business degree. But when were were going over my transfer credits, my enrollment coach was surprised at how many of the family and human development courses I had taken then I first went to college and asked if I wanted to think about that as my major. It was still a topic I was passionate about, and many of those courses actually transferred over.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I don’t know if this is a changed perspective, but I really liked the stance ASU has taken on having the university be a place for everyone. Everyone belongs. It doesn’t feel exclusive, like you are not good enough to be here. If you want to be here, you will have help reaching graduation day.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: That opportunity came through my husband. When he retired from the Army he was hired on as a store manager at Starbucks. After learning about the Starbucks College Achievement Plan he came home from work one day to let me know that the benefit was being expanded to family members of veterans who were employed by the company. Every excuse I had made for myself as to why I couldn’t go back to school, the time, the financial expense, no longer applied. It now came down to realizing I had this great opportunity, and what was I going to do with it.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Just finish! Finishing is the best feeling ever. I had quit in the past, which didn’t really feel that great, but now that I have finished school it feels amazing.

Q: What was your favorite spot to study?

A: My favorite spot to study was usually on my couch after my kids went to bed. I earned my entire bachelor’s degree on my couch, with my computer on the end table, after my kids were in bed.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: Hopefully I will complete my alternative teaching certificate and become a classroom teacher here in Texas. The alternative credential allows for anyone who has a bachelor's degree to teach in the classroom while they finish their requirements.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I hate the idea of a child going hungry, and many times the only time a child eats is when they get meals at school. With $40 million I would want to create a summertime program that allows children to continue getting the meals they would if they were still in school.

Q: What is your favorite Starbucks drink?

A: An Iced Caramel Macchiato. And when you have to stay up late studying, you have to get it with an extra shot!

Carrie Peterson

Associate Director, Media Relations, EdPlus at Arizona State University

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