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Cronkite students earn top honors at national competition

January 06, 2010

Two Arizona State University students took first and third places in the nation’s most prestigious intercollegiate journalism competition for editorial writing, while six others were recognized for their feature-writing work in television, newspaper and radio.

Megan Ann Martin, who graduated in May from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, finished first in the editorial writing category of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation’s Journalism Awards Program, often called the Pulitzer Prizes of college journalism.

Martin, from Peoria, Ariz., won for a column published in the CronkiteZine, the school’s online student magazine, that explored her experiences with a group of volunteers who were picking up garbage left behind by Mexicans trying to cross the U.S. border.

“I thought (the story) had an interesting environmental spin on the immigration issue, but it turned into something so much bigger,” Martin said. “It really brought home the real issue of immigration – the human element. It is so easy to talk numbers, money, jobs, arrests and deportations. They are figures that can roll off of your tongue without a second thought, but when you are confronted with the reality of the issue, it becomes a real struggle to come to grips with.”

She wrote the column as part of an in-depth reporting class taught by Rick Rodriguez, the school’s Carnegie Professor and the former executive editor of the Sacramento Bee.

“I still recall how emotional she was when she came back from collecting trash left behind by illegal immigrants crossing the desert,” Rodriguez said. “I had her tell me what she saw, what she felt. She couldn’t stop talking about finding a child’s little blue pants, wondering about his journey and where he was. And then I gave her a very short deadline because I wanted to capture her passion. It worked. She wrote a terrific piece.”

Martin will receive $2,000 from the Hearst Foundation, which will give the Cronkite School a matching grant for the winning entry.

Meanwhile, Allison Gatlin won third place in the editorial writing competition for her article “Playing His Twisted Game,” published in The Blue Guitar, a Web magazine of the Arizona Consortium for the Arts. Gatlin wrote about how she was stalked by a former boyfriend and the psychological impact years later. The Cronkite senior and Glendale native will receive a $1,000 scholarship from Hearst.

In other Hearst competitions:

• Toby Phillips, a senior from Albuquerque, N.M., finished third in the television features category. His winning portfolio included a story about a local caterer who, due to heavy steroid use to treat a sinus infection, cannot taste any of the food she cooks and a profile of a popular Phoenix hat maker whose creations have been worn by presidents and actors. Phillips will receive a $1,000 scholarship.

• Kristen Keogh, who graduated in December, placed 20th in the TV features competition. The Phoenix resident produced a story on an ASU football player who is active in student government and another about inmates who care for abused and neglected pets.

• Kendall Wright, a May graduate from Sarasota, Fla., finished fifth in the feature writing category for her CronkiteZine story “Seeing Stars and Stripes,” a look at the Arizona Minutemen Civil Defense Corps, the self-proclaimed and controversial volunteer border patrol. She will receive a $600 scholarship.

• Daniel Newhauser, a December graduate from San Antonio, Texas, finished 16th in feature writing for his CronkiteZine story “Culture and Border Enforcement Collide,” which explores how the Tohono O’odham reservation in Southern Arizona is caught in a border battle zone between drug traffickers and U.S. agents.

• Liz Lastra, a senior from Phoenix, finished eighth in the radio features category for stories on a Phoenix guitar-making school and an all-women chain gang on clean-up duty on the streets of Phoenix. She will receive a $500 scholarship.

• Kim Foley, a senior from Long Grove, Ill., placed 11th in the radio features competition for stories about local musicians who perform on the Phoenix light rail and a volunteer group that makes care packages for U.S. soldiers overseas.

Overall, the Cronkite School finished in first place nationally last year for the second time in three years in the prestigious competition. More than 100 accredited journalism schools around the country compete annually. Final placements for 2009-2010 will be announced this spring.

The program was established by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation in 1960 to provide support, encouragement and assistance to journalism education at the college and university level. The program distributes more than $550,000 in scholarships and grants annually.

Career Services Director Mike Wong and Assistant Dean Kristin Gilger coordinate the Hearst Journalism Awards for the Cronkite School.