(May 3, 2012) WEST HARTFORD, Conn., U.S.A. – A 19-year-old reporter from Mumbai, India who produced an astonishing array of compelling and important stories is Youth Journalism International’s 2012 Student Journalist of the Year.
During the course of 2011, Pushkal Shivam questioned the Dalai Lama, interviewed survivors in the immediate aftermath of a terrorist bomb attack, lived for a week on a handful of rupees a week to see how the poor scrape by and much more, impressing the judges with his drive, initiative and talent.
Though Shivam’s portfolio was unusually packed, YJI’s annual contest also honored many other talented students who captured awards for everything from news to reviews, with photographers, cartoonists, columnists and others winning awards for an astonishing range of material published last year. There were winners from 18 countries and 11 U.S. states.
Shivam, though, had it all. For one of his stories, for example, Shivam talked his way inside a women’s prison and discovered many children locked away there along with their convicted mothers, tiny inmates, totally innocent, living behind bars.
“I do not claim to have exposed anything. That would be sensationalism,” Shivam wrote. “On the contrary, it was merely an effort to highlight what the society sometimes takes for granted: an issue like hunger or the loss of childhood. My efforts are simply a speck in the page which records change. The spirit of change will spread like a contagion the day that page is filled with words which make a society truly conscious of its problems. I am happy to have contributed even a speck to that page.”
“Pushkal is a young reporter who clearly has ink in his veins. He has all the right instincts and a burning desire to dig into critically important stories that clearly shows in his work,” said Steve Collins, YJI’s board president.
Shivam said he wants to tell “the stories of the deprived and the disadvantaged” in a country where so many suffer from grinding poverty and a lack of opportunity. Is there anything more a reporter can, or should, do?
For Shivam, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable is second nature. That’s part of what makes him a great young journalist whom we are proud to honor.
The Student Journalist of the Year category had one finalist: Cynthia Mao from Monta Vista High School in Cuppertino, Calif. Mao, who lives in Saratoga, Calif., and writes for the school paper, El Estoque.
In this year’s contest, 19 judges, many of them professionals in the field, helped narrow down a wide field of solid entries in dozens of categories. This marks YJI’s third annual contest.
The 2012 contest awards crystal trophies in four major categories: the Student Journalist of the Year, the Journalism Educator of the Year, the Frank Keegan “Take No Prisoners” Award for News, and the Jacinta Marie Bunnell Award for Commentary. An additional award for Courage in Journalism was not given this year.
Eighty students on five continents – winners in the many other categories – will receive custom-made certificates.
Educator of the Year
The 2012 Journalism Educator of the Year is Mark Ionescu, captured the top honors on a tidal wave of support from his students at The John Carroll School in Bel Air, Md.
Nominating him in secret, 10 student staffers of The Patriot, the school paper, wrote glowing letters attesting to his humor, skill, care and enthusiasm as well as to their paper’s lengthy list of achievements. He was a finalist in the category in 2010 and 2011.
For Grace Kim, the paper’s online editor, “the grandiose feats Mr. I has helped us accomplish certainly mean a lot, but the smaller things he does mean more sometimes. Like that shoulder pat he’s always giving me when I’m at my lowest and I don’t deserve it. Or when he bought a new stuffed manatee for The Patriot room because he knew I was upset that the old one got stolen. Let’s also not forget how many camera memory cards he’s bought to replace the ones staffers have lost. I’ve seen him forgive us over and over again.”
Kim, who organized the student effort, said that Ionescu is always there “in the midst of all the beautiful madness,” ready to lend a hand. “The secret ingredient to our success will always be his guidance,” she said.
This year’s winner of the Frank Keegan “Take No Prisoners” Award for News goes to Soo Ji Lee, the editor-in-chief of the Riverdale Review at Riverdale Country School in New York. As a member of the paper’s staff Lee has “made clear from her first day that she had no interest in maintaining the status quo” in her quest to make the paper better, according to her teacher, Michael Sclafani.
One of the changes that Lee promoted was to “better her own skills” by seeking out conferences and summer workshops to hone her abilities, he said, including one at the Missouri School of Journalism.
While there, the 17-year-old Lee wanted to write a news story about a controversy involving the expansion of a local mosque – a story that echoed the larger national one about a proposed mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. Lee “went against her supervisor” to cover the story, her teacher said, and it was ultimately one of the few from the program published in the Columbia Missourian.
Kate Carlisle, managing editor of The Washington Post News Service, was Lee’s mentor and coach during her stint at the Missouri Urban Journalism Workshop last summer. She said Lee suggested a story on the Columbia mosque and wondered if it was facing the same sort of opposition Muslims in New York City were dealing with. The problem, Carlisle said, was the utter lack of evidence that the local mosque planned any expansion. Lee, though, started digging. And in the zoning office at City Hall, Lee found a horde of public documents that showed the mosque did indeed plan an enormous expansion – a story the city’s two daily newspapers, three television stations, two popular radio stations or numerous outlets at the journalism school somehow missed. Lee churned it out on deadline because it was too hot to hold, Carlisle said.
Lee’s “unwillingness to back down from what she truly believed was a good story idea, her flexibility in approaching it from different angles, and her unflagging ability to see it through all speak so highly of Soo Ji. This smart, tough, savvy young woman is ready for bigger challenges,” Carlisle said.
“She grabs an idea and will not let go until the story is written,” Sclafani said, even if it means stepping on toes. As a journalist, he said, Lee’s tenacity shines. “Her articles have substance; they carry meaning for both her classmates and the greater community.”
The Keegan Award category has one finalist: Cresonia Hsieh lives in Delray Beach, Fla., where she attends Spanish River Community High School in Boca Raton. Her story, “9-11 Survivor: I Thought I Was Going to Die” is also the sort of gripping, tough-minded journalism that Keegan, a legendary editor, always sought.
Snagging top honors for the Jacinta Marie Bunnell Award for Commentary was Jasmine Wang, a student at her hometown East Brunswick High School in New Jersey. The category, named for a Connecticut woman who died too young, aims to reward students willing to take a stand.
Wang, 16, was chosen from among stiff competition for an essay she wrote for the Windsor-Hights Herald headlined, “Curiosity, Creativity and the Curse of Education” that castigated the lack of creativity in schools. Flabbergasted by a friend who got a C+ on an AP English essay because it was “too creative,” Wang assailed the “rote and robotic formula of education” and the “close-minded educators and the pressure to do well, which often overrides all motivation to learn.”
Wang called on educators to focus on opening minds, but she also urged students to chart a new course. “Students, raise your hands, and keep your heads up high. For striking out is far better than cowering in fear. Shake the cage, break the mold. You are free, you are creative and curious and confident.” There’s no doubt that’s at least true of Wang herself, who’s obviously not afraid to break the mold.
Finalists in the category were Tasman Anderson, a student at the University of Queensland who lives in Brisbane, Australia, and Saachi Sharma, a student at Lady Shri Ram College for Women in New Delhi, India. Anderson wrote a column about virginity for Q Magazine. Sharma wrote about “The Hijab: From the Side That is Covered” for The Saltlist.