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Cronkite Wins Regional SPJ Contest for 16th Straight Year

May 6, 2016

For the 16th consecutive year, Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication has finished as the top school in the regional Society of Professional Journalists’ Mark of Excellence Awards competition.

Cronkite students won 22 awards, the most in the SPJ Region 11 contest. This included 11 first place honors, nearly twice as many as the second and third place schools. Over the past decade, Cronkite School students have won 379 awards in the contest, the most from any journalism program in the region.

“Winning our region 16 straight years is a testament to our outstanding students and faculty,” said Cronkite Associate Dean Kristin Gilger. “This year, our students went above and beyond, shining a light on a number of important issues that don’t usually get a lot of attention. We are extremely proud of their efforts and look forward to the national Mark of Excellence Awards.”

Cronkite News, the student-produced news division of Arizona PBS, took 11 awards, including first place in online news reporting for “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona.” The 30-minute documentary, produced in association with the Arizona Broadcasters Association, represents the work of more than 70 students and eight faculty members. More than 1 million Arizonans have watched “Hooked,” which has won a host of professional awards, including Emmys and the prestigious Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award.

Carnegie-Knight News21 took first place in online in-depth digital reporting for “America’s Weed Rush,” a major investigation into the issues surrounding the legalization of marijuana in America. Twenty-seven students from 19 universities traveled to more than 23 states for the project, which was featured in The Washington Post, NBCnews.com and numerous other national and regional publications.

The Cronkite School’s Southwest Borderlands Initiative project, “Nicaragua: Channeling the Future,” won two awards, including first place for best independent online student publication. For the project, 18 Cronkite students traveled to Nicaragua to report on the impact of plans to build a new cross-continental canal.

ASU’s student-run media organizations also had a strong showing. The State Press, ASU’s student news operation, took four honors; and the Downtown Devil, an online publication focused on Phoenix and the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, took three. The Blaze, ASU’s student-operated radio station, was a finalist for radio in-depth reporting.

This year’s regional contest attracted entries from college journalism students in Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada. The awards were presented at the SPJ regional conference April 30 in Phoenix.

Winners of the regional SPJ competitions go on to another round of judging in the national SPJ competition. Those winners will be announced in late spring at the annual SPJ convention in New Orleans. Over the past 10 years, the Cronkite School has the best overall record in the national Mark of Excellence Awards, finishing with the most awards eight times. In that span, students have won a total of 81 awards — 41 national winners and 40 finalists.

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 promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry through the daily work of its nearly 10,000 members.

The complete list of Cronkite’s regional SPJ winners:


Online In-Depth Reporting

Winner: “America's Weed Rush,” Carnegie-Knight News21

Finalist: Cydney McFarland, “Planned for Centuries, Nicaragua’s Canal Plan Steps Forward,” Nicaragua: Channeling the Future

Online News Reporting

Winner: “Hooked: Tracking Heroin’s Hold on Arizona,” Cronkite News

Best Digital-Only Student Publication

Winner: Ben Margiott, Shelby Slade and Devin Conley, The State Press

Best Independent Online Student Publication

Winner: Nicaragua: Channeling the Future

Finalist: Downtown Devil

Editorial Writing

Winner: The State Press

Online Feature Reporting

Winner: Alexandra Scoville and Courtney Pedroza, “Okilly Dokilly: Phoenix’s Half Urban Legend, Half Viral Internet sensation,” Downtown Devil

Online Sports Reporting

Winner: Chris Wimmer, “Basketball at Breakneck Pace a Way of Life on Navajo Reservation,” Cronkite News

Finalist: Evan Webeck, “Meet the First ASU Women’s Hockey Recruit: KC McGinley,” The State Press

Sports Column Writing

Winner: Evan Webeck, State Press sports columns: “In Faceoff of Flaws, Texas A&M Has Fewer Exposed”; “Todd Graham: A Coach in Denial”; “ASU vs. Oregon: An Epic Battle for the Pac-12 Disappointment Bowl

Feature Photography (Large) 10,000+ Students

Finalist: Courtney Pedroza, “Phoenix Pigeons,” Downtown Devil

General News Reporting (Large) 10,000+ Students

Finalist: Agnel Philip, “Phone Call Rates Squeeze Inmate Families, Boost State Prison Revenues,” Cronkite News 

Best Use of Multimedia

Finalist: Alicia Clark and Sara Weber, “Arizona Exporters Tout Benefits of Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership,” Cronkite News



Television General News Reporting

Winner: Julia Thatcher, “‘Robo-deer’ Dispatched to Arizona Forests to Thwart Poachers,” Cronkite News

Finalist: Lauren Michaels, “Buffelgrass and Drones,” Cronkite News

Finalist: Audrey Weil, “Quarterback of the Battlefield,” Cronkite News

Television Feature Reporting

Winner: Yahaira Jacquez, “Child Life Specialists Help Young Patients, Families,” Cronkite News

Television News and Feature Photography

Winner: Yahaira Jacquez, “Phoenix Children’s Hospital Child Life Specialists Help Ease Pain for Young Patients, Their Families,” Cronkite News

Finalist: Yahaira Jacquez, “Music Teacher in West Phoenix Making a Difference,” Cronkite News

Television In-Depth Reporting

Finalist: Sonny Scott Jacquee, “Guadalupe Coping with Chronic Poverty,” Cronkite News

Radio In-Depth Reporting

Finalist: Olivia Richard, “Looking for Laurie,” The Blaze