Campus Life

UWF journalism students win big at southeast competition

By Josh Newby, University Communications

The Voyager, the University of West Florida student newspaper, placed fourth in the Best College Newspaper competition of the Southeast Journalism Conference, up from its ninth place finish in 2010. The contest result was announced at Troy University, site of the Feb. 17-19 annual gathering of mass media students and professors. Representatives of 29 colleges and universities also attended.

Students in the Communication Arts department submitted a copy of The Voyager to a panel of practicing journalists from across the country who volunteer to judge the paper in 23 categories, including best news reporter, best feature writer, best arts and entertainment writer, best press photographer, best news graphic designer, etc.

“In a contest that includes powerhouses like the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama, both of which publish daily papers, moving up from ninth place to fourth is a real accomplishment,” said journalism professor Bruce Swain, faculty advisor of the newspaper. “I am very proud of our students.”

On the second day of the competition, students were tasked with individual challenges, competing under deadline pressure in categories such as editorial writing, copy editing, news reporting and more.

Kaycee Lagarde competed in the copy editing category against nine other people, where she was tasked with finding 75 errors in 60 minutes and coming up with a headline for a fictional news story.

“It was definitely a stressful 60 minutes for me. There were so many errors to find, and I wanted to do my best to represent UWF and The Voyager,” said Lagarde. “I was pretty surprised when I placed, because I had decided to compete at the last minute, and I didn’t have much time to prepare. I was very excited that I made it in the top three.”

Other individual UWF winners in the on-site competition, which was judged by mass media professors from attending universities, included W. Paul Smith, first place in current events; John McMullen, second place in sports reporting; Brittany Carr and Valerie Thornewell, second place in media ethics; Sara Surber, Lauren Nash and Kristy Coleman, third place in public relations.

Referring to the overall fourth place ranking that The Voyager received, Lagarde said, “I think that was just an awesome feeling for all of us. For us to move from ninth place last year to fourth place this year shows just how hardworking and dedicated the staff is. It’s also amazing to me that we beat out some college newspapers that are daily papers with a full, paid staff. The Voyager is only put out once a week. It’s just an amazing team effort.”

The students also gained valuable career experience and made important networking connections while at the conference.

“Our students heard from some excellent, experienced speakers on everything from job hunting to media legal issues,” Swain said. “In addition, opening that envelope and reading comments on your work by professionals you don’t know is an invaluable experience.”