ULV journalism students take home nine regional awards

Stephen Gilson Jr.
LV Life Editor

University of La Verne journalism students cleaned up in this year’s Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence Awards – winning a total of nine awards, including seven awards for Campus Times staff writers, one for the La Verne Magazine, and one for the Foothill Community News broadcast – for work produced in 2023. 

The results of the annual competition – among college news outlets across California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam, which make up SPJ Region 11 – were announced last month.

Among the nine awards were four first place honors and five finalist, or second place, nods. First place winners move on to the national Mark of Excellence competition later this year.

Kelli Makenna Kuttruff, senior communications major and Campus Times arts editor, won first place in the feature writing category for her story “Local houses go all out for Halloween,” which ran in the Campus Times.

“This story was memorable for me because I got to approach journalism in an old-school kind of way,” Kuttruff said. “A lot of interviews I do are over the phone now, but for this story I (went) door-to-door and asked to talk to homeowners. I was always invited into their homes and that made it a special experience.”

For the in-depth reporting category, senior journalism majors and Campus Times editors Sarah Van Buskirk and Samira Felix, and senior communications major Brittany Snow, won first place for their series Future of January Interterm.” 

The series detailed how the University almost did away with the popular January session, but then aborted the consequential plan. 

“This story was different from others we have written in the past because it was an ongoing issue that the University was dealing with behind the scenes,” Van Buskirk said. “(They were) being very open about it in public meetings that students normally don’t go to. (And) just because Samira and I had been to this certain meeting, we caught on to the fact that (something) wasn’t right.”

“I think what really made this story stand out was that it was a part of a series that just kept evolving,” Felix added. “Brittany and Sarah both did amazing jobs in getting student reactions and covering the new information that kept developing for the story.”

Senior broadcast journalism major Michelle Roldan, who was a finalist in the television breaking news category for her Foothill Community News story on the recent Kaiser Permanente strikes, was also delighted with the news of her win. 

“I was looking for a way to prove my journalistic abilities,” Roldan said. “I definitely set a higher bar for myself. After that story, I felt like I have proved myself not only to other people, but myself.”

Additional winners included: 

Journalism Professor Elizabeth Zwerling is chief advisor for the Campus Times, Journalism Professor George Keeler is chief advisor for the La Verne Magazine, Journalism Operations Manager Eric Borer is photography advisor for both publications. Associate Professor of Broadcast Journalism Valerie Cummings is chief advisor for Foothill Community News. And adjunct professor and Campus Times alum Michael Saakyan served as chief advisor for the Campus Times during Zwerling’s spring 2023 sabbatical. 

“It makes a really big impact on my professional career winning an award like this,” Van Buskirk said. “But, it also felt really good to write these stories, get them published, and influence the University’s decision(s).”

One of the oldest, largest and best-known journalism organizations – with roughly 300 chapters across the U.S., and more than 9,000 media members – the Society of Professional Journalists, formerly known as Sigma Delta Chi, was established in 1909 at DePauw University.  Aside from its annual contests honoring excellence in journalism, SPJ works to promote and defend freedom of speech and freedom of the press, and to support diversity, ethical behavior and high standards in professional and student journalism.

Stephen Gilson Jr. can be reached at stephen.gilson@laverne.edu

Stephen Gilson Jr. is a sophomore journalism major with a concentration in broadcast journalism. He played baseball and football in high school and is an avid sports enthusiast.

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