School of Journalism and New Media

The University of Mississippi

Program director of Hearst Journalism Awards named recipient of Sass Award

Posted on: September 13th, 2013 by

Jan Watten, Program Director, received the 2013 Gerald M. Sass Award, last month at the annual convention of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communications in Washington, D.C.  Sass was an executive with the Gannett Foundation and then the Freedom Forum and is known for his significant contributions to journalism education.

The Hearst Journalism Awards, a program of The William Randolph Hearst Foundation, was begun in 1960, to encourage quality journalism education in colleges and universities.  The program awards scholarships to students with matching grants to the students’ schools.

Dr. Douglas Anderson, dean of the College of Communications at The Pennsylvania State University, introduced Ms. Watten.  She made comments and introduced four winners who have had remarkable careers.  Their remarks are not recorded here.

Dean Anderson’s introduction is followed by excerpts of Ms. Watten’s remarks:

“Jan Watten is a splendid choice for the 2013 Gerald M. Sass Award. …

“And there are parallels between Gerry and Jan.

“Both have worked tirelessly for decades for the betterment of journalism education and journalism.

“Both have worked tirelessly for decades for their respective foundations for the betterment of journalism education and journalism.

“And both have been terrific stewards of the resources of their respective foundations for the betterment of journalism education and journalism.

“Gerry worked for the old Gannett Foundation and for The Freedom Forum.

“Jan has worked for the William R. Hearst Foundation.

“The Hearst Foundation’s Journalism Awards Program is now entering its 54th year. It is a competition often called ‘the Pulitzers of college journalism.’

“And Jan has served –– literally –– half that time as program director.

“The Hearst contest has grown significantly on her watch.  It now has 14 monthly competitions:  five in writing, four in multimedia, three in broadcast and two in photo. In recent years, it has received more than 1,000 student entries.

“Jan has overseen the contest for more than a quarter-century with the same energy, enthusiasm, drive and dedication that she possessed on Day One. And not many of us can say that about ourselves.

“By my very rough count, under her watch, more than 15,000 student entries have been processed–and the Hearst Journalism Awards Program has awarded more than $12 million to the country’s journalism students and schools.

“Through the years, she has earned the trust of the Hearst family.

“She has earned the trust of the Hearst Foundation’s board of directors.

“She has earned the trust of the executive directors and vice presidents to whom she has reported.

“And she has earned the trust, respect and admiration of the steering committee members with whom she has worked.

“And she has clearly earned the Gerald M. Sass Award for Distinguished Service to Journalism and Mass Communication.”

The following are excerpts from Ms. Watten’s remarks:

“The Hearst Journalism Awards Program was designed by Randolph A. Hearst –– who with his brother George created the program with the help of ASJMC administrators in the late 1950’s – at that time this organization consisted of 46 accredited schools of journalism.  In the early days of the program Randy Hearst’s administrative assistant Helen Mehawk processed the competition entries and filed them in one file cabinet drawer in her office. …

“Since 1960, approximately 36,000 entries in the monthly competitions have come through our office.  First as newspaper clippings, and then photographs were included, then boxes of broadcast cassettes and VHS tapes were mailed in – and now the entries are links and multimedia reports viewed on a computer.  Regardless of the medium, students have taken a chance and sent their entries for our judges to review.  Of the nearly 36,000 entries submitted, more than 10,000 entrants have received an award or certificate of merit. …

“One award winner said that she worked in a bakery in college. Receiving the competition award allowed her to sell fewer donuts and write more.  Another award winner said, “The award helped encourage a shy Iowa farm kid to think that it was not screwy to shoot for a career as a journalist,” Dean Mills said that in 1963.   Mills is Dean of the College of Journalism at the University of Missouri.

“… I would like to read a few more quotes from some of the early winners of the program to who sum up the experience so well.

“Writing winner Stephen Lynch, from Northwestern said: ‘The Hearst competition really encourages college journalists to push themselves, to use that internship or school newspaper job to produce ambitious feature, news and sport stories.  That is the most important legacy: For in this business, it’s not where you went to school or what award you’ve won, it’s your work.’

“Jerry Rankin, Stanford University, the very first winner of the program, who received the trophy from President Kennedy in the Oval Office in 1961. How amazing that must have been!

“He said: ‘… the trip with George and Randy Hearst to the Oval Office for half an hour with JFK sort of made my year, or decade. Long term, the award served as positive proof that real professionals in journalism were telling me that I had what it took to make a career in the field. For an uncertain college student, that vote of confidence was like finding gold.’

“Rena Pederson, University of Texas Austin: ‘Becoming the first woman to win the Hearst National Writing Award in 1969 was definitely an inflection point in my career. It made me realize I could actually compete and win in a room with really talented guys. It gave me more confidence to pursue a career in newspapers –– and what a kick that has been!  To this day, I am grateful for the opportunities the Hearst Award opened for me. I used my scholarship to go to graduate school at Columbia and from there to UPI and AP and covering Watergate in Washington.  Thank you, Hearst Foundation.’

“I think it would be … interesting for you to hear it from alumni of the program who are here with me today.

“I would like to welcome and introduce:

“Chris Adams, from Iowa State University, who participating in 7 monthly competitions and two championships between 1985 and 1988, and is now National Correspondent for the McClatchy Washington Bureau.

“Amy Kossoff Smith, 1989 championship winner from Northwestern University, is founder and president of her own public relations firm Write Ideas

“Colleen McCain Nelson from the University of Kansas.  Colleen received awards in personality-profile, in-depth writing and spot news competitions between 1995 and 1997 and is now a White House correspondent for the Wall Street Journal and Pulitzer Prize winner.

“And Kris Van Cleave, University of Southern California. Participated in two championships in 2001 and 2002 and is now a reporter at WJLA-TV here in D.C.

“But first, another one of our famous alumni couldn’t make it today.  Although Larry Kramer, publisher of USA wanted to be here, he could not get away.”