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Central Washington University

Pair of CWU Student Publications Rank First In Regional Contest

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Two Central Washington University student media outlets rose to the top of their respective fields this spring, earning top honors in the annual Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards contests.Society of Professional Journalists Logo

CWU’s student newspaper The Observer and PULSE magazine both took home the Best All-Around awards in their categories in the region, competing against universities with over 10,000 students from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska. In addition, PULSE was a national finalist in the Best Magazine category.

The recognition is a clear indication of the stellar work each publication put forth in 2020, said Jennifer Green, faculty advisor to PULSE and The Observer. (Green took over the newspaper advisor role following the December 2020 retirement of Cynthia Mitchell.) She attributes these SPJ Mark of Excellence awards to the hard work and collaboration of her and Mitchell's students during an unprecedented year.

“Our students exhibit passion, excitement, dedication, enjoyment, and a drive to improve,” Green said. “We are a small program competing with much bigger journalism schools, and that can be its own motivation.”

In the regional competition, PULSE also won Best Affiliated Website and was a finalist for Best Use of Multimedia for a story about a football player who became a father while at CWU. The Observer was a regional finalist in four additional categories: Best Affiliated Website, Sports Reporting, Breaking News Photography and Editorial Cartooning.

Mitchell Roland, former editor-in-chief of The Observer, said the past year brought some unexpected challenges that his team overcame through hard work and a desire to succeed.

"With journalism being so collaborative, we had to adapt to a completely virtual format since staff members were spread across the state,” Roland said. “We powered through adversity and published an issue every week we were all proud of.”

Maddy Wilson, former editor-in-chief of PULSE, said her focus “was making our name more recognizable, and also helping to reach students that might have felt left behind or unnoticed before.” The winning issue of PULSE was a themed edition dedicated to the topic of social justice, a concept Wilson has learned about through her social work studies.

That field, she said, helps people who “aren’t traditionally paid attention to in society, which informed my approach to leading a school magazine.”

Local media are a precious resource in any community, telling stories of the lives and times of people closer to home than larger media outlets might cover. Department of Communication Chair Francesco Somaini sees this role as vital to the approach CWU student media take in their reporting.

“Media shape and are shaped by the culture of the milieu in which they operate,” Somaini said. “Student media are news outlets by CWU students for CWU students and serve the university the same way professional news outlets serve democracy. They have been an independent voice about what happens on campus, and beyond, for many years—The Observer, for decades. Their very presence, and the support they receive from their stakeholders, are expressions of CWU’s culture.”

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