By Kasey Brammell
Students at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication swept up all three first-place prizes and an honorable mention in the student categories in the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing’s (SABEW) 26th Annual Best in Business Awards contest.
Cronkite students took top prize in the three student categories: projects and collaborations, stories for professional media outlets and stories for student media outlets.
The first-place winner of the Student Journalism – Projects and Collaborations category is The Arizona Republic’s “Nationwide Insurance bought one of the state’s most valuable parcels of land in Scottsdale. It also got a great deal” by Katie Surma, Anne Mickey and Jamie Fields. It was a story written for an investigative reporting class taught by Walter V. Robinson, a Cronkite professor of practice and the former Boston Globe’s Spotlight team investigations editor.
The winners of the Student Journalism – Stories for Professional Media Outlets category are Dallas Morning News’ “It’s as if Hurricane Katrina hit every city around the US: How COVID is impacting 5 of the largest nonprofits” by Natalie Walters, first place; and Poynter.org’s “How journalism interns reported on places they’ve never been over the summer” by Agya K. Aning, honorable mention.
The first-place winner of the Student Journalism – Stories for Student Media Outlets category is Cannabis farms struggle to survive California wildfires without insurance,” a story by Lauren Hernandez for Cronkite News about the impact of California’s wildfires on farmworkers, wineries and cannabis growers.
“Jamie Fields, who was a member of the team reporting on the Nationwide Insurance story, said that she and her co-authors were both surprised and excited when they heard they won.
“We knew that there might be some waves from the story, that when it came out that it might cause some people to talk about it. But to win an award? That wasn’t really on our radar at all,” she said.
The team worked on the story for about 10 months from January to October 2020. They found ways to interview the necessary sources despite in-person and social distancing restrictions of COVID-19.
“It was really a group effort, and I think the success of the story was that the three of us each really had our strengths, and those strengths really came through during the reporting process,” Fields said.
With support by the Commonwealth Fund grant, the 2020 awards focused on public health and the economy. SABEW used the grant money to provide training on covering the pandemic, its impact on the economy and “how economics and epidemiology can work in harmony or be at odds.”
Natalie Walters’ story analyzing data of the Paycheck Protection Program and the struggles of nonprofits during the pandemic significantly aligns with the goal of the grant.
“I felt like nonprofits were sort of being overlooked in terms of organizations and businesses struggling during the pandemic. There was a lot of coverage about businesses, small businesses, large businesses being hurt, but not so much nonprofits,” said Walters. “I felt that it was our jobs as journalists to cover them, especially because they were being called on more than ever. People were really struggling during the pandemic and relying on nonprofits at a time when they were seeing a drop in donations and volunteers weren’t able to help out as much because they needed to stay at home. So it was just sort of an ironic situation.”
Walters said the nonprofits she wrote about were thankful because their difficulties were not well known. Walters also received emails from readers saying that they hadn’t realized that nonprofits were struggling.
“I’ve been to a SABEW conference, and I think it’s a great organization. So to be recognized for a story, it was important and super special,” she said. “The aim is definitely not to get an award for each of these stories, but it’s definitely encouraging, flattering and inspiring to keep going and working on stories I feel are important.”
Shortly after graduating in December 2020, Walters was hired by the Dallas Morning News as a full-time business reporter with “Money” as her beat.