In judging the third Murray Kempton Award competition for undergraduate journalism, we considered an array of intriguing, important and well executed stories. It's clear that CUNY's journalism students are learning the crafts of reporting and writing and are engaging with issues significant to their campuses and society at large. That bodes well for the future of journalism and for the inquiry that is at the heart of both education and an informed citizenry.
Judging was blind. We read uniform, plain-text submissions without identifying information about the writer or, except where it was evident from the story, the college. We discussed the submissions thoroughly until we reached consensus.
Here is a brief discussion of the factors that went into our decisions:
The contest rules say "the journalistic work must be about matters of importance to the college community, interpreted broadly." Evaluation criteria include "originality; creativity; clarity in presentation; readability or audio/video storytelling; enterprise in reporting; journalistic significance, and accuracy of spelling and grammar."
Beyond those considerations, we looked for stories that expanded our understanding of issues. Writers variously looked on campus, around the city and abroad as they explored topics including mass transit, the scarcity of child day care, the need for high quality public parks, art galleries and the relationship between food and romance.
The winner in the news category examined the issues underlying an upcoming student vote over student activity fees at Hunter College. Winners in the enterprise/feature and commentary categories tackled societal issues, one describing a church that feeds the hungry, the other probing the NYPD's stop- and- frisk policy. We encourage entrants to future Murray Kempton competitions to be ambitious in their choice of subjects, whether on campus or not.
Another factor weighed in our decisions. We favored stories that showed in-person reporting skills. These days, it is easy to pull information off the Internet; all contemporary journalists use the Web as a resource and sometimes what's online is the point of a story. We believed that the story should make evident that the writer actually interviewed sources, burrowed into facts and personally saw what was happening.
The competition's criteria for best news story are that it "presents the facts about a timely issue. It contains reliable, attributed information, is comprehensive and clearly separates fact from opinion."
"The Green Initiative Referendum: Why You're Funding a Magazine That Doesn't Exist" by Jesse Lent, a Hunter College senior last year, uses clear, expository language, straight-down-the-middle reporting and good quotes to explain an upcoming student referendum. Any reader would have a solid understanding of why a new campus environmental organization called the Green Initiative was seeking to acquire funding from student activity fees that were dedicated to a defunct literary magazine.
The contest rules say an enterprise story "typically takes a broad look at a topic, presenting the 'big picture' behind a news event. A feature is a human interest story, often not related to a timely event."
"Small Longwood Church Feeds the Hungry" by Fausto Giovanny Pinto, a senior at Hunter College last year, captures the essence of enterprise reporting with a heartfelt look at the Word of Life Christian Fellowship International Church in the South Bronx. With evident eyewitness reporting, iIt ably portrays the struggle of a pastor and his wife to care for needy area residents, not only with food, but also with understanding and compassion.
The contest rules for commentaries state: "Encompassing both editorials and personal columns, commentary expresses personal opinion. Good commentary offers crisp analysis of a problem or situation, discusses it with a clear point of view, and may offer solutions."
"Why Not Ease Up on Stop and Frisk?" by Kesi Foster, a junior at the City College of New York last year, satisfied those criteria well. He asks what black or Latino has not suffered the indignity of the New York Police Department's questionable stop-and-frisk policy, which resulted in charges against only 10 percent of the hundreds of thousands of people stopped on the city streets in the first nine months of 2009. And where, he asks, is push-back from the city's religious and civil rights leaders, especially in a time when so much political discourse touts the United States as being "post-racial"?
We did not select winners in two categories, photography and new media, because there were too few choices; however, we did include the lone new media entry, a series of blog posts on a single topic, in our consideration of commentaries.
Each of us had the privilege of working with Murray Kempton, and we feel confident that he would have been proud to lend his name to this competition and to these three winners. One of the things Murray often said about New York Newsday was that he found himself re-energized by the enthusiasm of the young reporters working there. We think he would have felt the same way about these students and these entries.
Elaine Rivera, lecturer in journalism, Lehman College
Stephanie Saul, reporter, The New York Times
Neill S. Rosenfeld, curator, the Kempton Awards