Cronkite senior wins Hearst Award for feature writing

Monday, Feb. 14, 2022


Cronkite senior Kiera Riley took home second place in the Feature Writing Competition of the 2021-2022 Hearst Journalism Awards Program. Her work was selected out of 148 entries from 80 universities nationwide.

The award includes a $2,000 scholarship, with matching grants for the top five schools. Riley also won a Maggie Award last year for a State Press article she co-bylined. Riley began writing at her high school’s journalism program, but only delved into feature writing once she joined the ASU State Press Magazine as a freshman.

“When I got more into the writing style … how you can draw out narrative, use details to paint a picture and really embed people in a story, my appreciation for it grew so much. I knew that was what I wanted to do,” she said.

Her winning piece, “Dubbing ‘Star Wars: A New Hope’ into Navajo Language,” tells the story of one man’s fleeting idea becoming reality: the first “Star Wars” movie translated into a Native American language.

“It turned into this big project with a lot of community members and voice actors. It was this really awesome story,” Riley said. “There were a lot of hurdles, but it ultimately ended up coming together. It was this huge triumph.”

Venita Hawthorne James, Riley’s director at Cronkite News at the time, proposed the story idea when she heard the film would become available on the Disney+ streaming service last year. The movie had originally aired in 2013 in Window Rock, Arizona.

“What’s great about Kiera is that she’s always willing to go deeper on things,” Hawthorne James said. “She was able to take something that happened a decade ago and bring it into today.”

Hawthorne James believes the story is both unique and relatable, traits that will give it a lasting influence.

“A lot of times we put stories out there and we don’t know who’s going to read them,” she said. “This one will keep reverberating. It’s one of those stories that’s timeless in its impact.”

Riley feels thrilled and honored to have won second place in a national competition.

“I was so overjoyed I shed a little tear,” she said. “I’m so glad it was this story in particular because all of my sources had a heartfelt connection with the ‘Star Wars’ dub.”

Riley works as managing editor at The State Press Magazine and interns as a digital reporter at The Arizona Republic. She graduates in May and looks forward to her future endeavors.

“I have a few magazines and papers in mind I’m going to apply to,” she said. “But I’m just going to see where the wind takes me. I’m really excited.”

Read her story here.

By Olivia McCann