The Daily Mississippian and Newswatch Ole Miss won 24 awards, including 12 first-place awards, in the Southeast Journalism Conference Best of the South Competition and the state Mississippi Press Association contest for their content published or broadcast from late 2019 through 2020.
Best of the South is a southeastern U.S. regional contest that received 369 entries from 30 universities. The MPA contest is for students attending Mississippi colleges.
In the SEJC contest, The Daily Mississippian won first place for Best College Website, Best News Writer (Daniel Payne), Best Arts & Entertainment Writer (Will Carpenter) and Best Newspaper Page Layout Design team ( Eliza Noe, Daniel Payne, MacKenzie Linneen, Megan Tape, Kate Kimberlin).
Awards were also won by Daily Mississippian staff members Kelby Zendejas, 3rd place for Best Sports Writer; Kenneth Niemeyer, 3rd place for Best Special Event Reporter/Editor; Katherine Butler, 3rd place for Best News Graphic; Hadley Hitson, 4th place for Best News Writer; Eliza Noe, 6th place for Best Feature Writer; and Katie Dames, 13th place for Best Op-Ed Writer. Some categories had more than 30 individual entries.
NewsWatch Ole Miss, the student newscast, was honored with awards for 3rd place, Best College TV Station; 3rd place, Best TV News Feature (Carter Diggs), and 6th place, Best TV Journalist (Kaylee Crafton).
In the MPA contest, the Daily Mississippian received first-place awards for Best Website; Best Newspaper Layout & Design; Best Newspaper Front Page; Best Series or Investigative (Kenneth Niemeyer); Best General News Photo (Billy Schuerman); Best Sports News Story (Joshua Clayton); Best Feature Story (Will Carpenter); and Best Cartoon (Nakiyah Jordan).
MPA judges praised the DM website for “good, clean, up-to-date content; good format, good job with the pandemic on keeping stories, photos and multimedia flowing.” They called DM front pages “bold and provocative.” They said articles showed outstanding storytelling; compelling writing; courageous journalism. Visuals were praised as “stunning,” and for capturing “signs of the times” and expressing emotion.
The DM staff won a second-place MPA award for General Excellence. Schuerman won first place and second place in the General News Photo category. Eliza Noe, Katie Dames and John Hydrisko shared a third-place award for editorial writing.
“I’m very proud of all of the awards we were able to bring home this year,” said Eliza Noe, DM Editor-in-Chief for 2020-21. “Student journalism, in general, has been through a lot this year, so I’m also extremely fortunate to have a staff that’s been able to excel during the pandemic.”
Noe also thanked the Student Media professional staff. “I don’t know what we would have done without them and their guidance when we needed it.”
Hitson, DM managing editor, said that during her four years on the DM staff, she’s seen the publication win dozens of awards every spring.
“I’m glad that even under hard circumstances this year, we were able to uphold our journalistic standard for content and continue to publish important articles that impact the community,” Hitson said.
Atish Baidya, associate director/editorial at the SMC, said students for all platforms had to rethink workflows when the pandemic struck last March.
“The Daily Mississippian staff had to switch all their reporting efforts to the website and worked entirely from home,” Baidya said. “The Newswatch staff had to reimagine its newscast, pivoting to an online weekly newscast with anchors and reporters recording their segments and stories from home as well.”
Brian Barisa had just become NewsWatch Ole Miss manager in January 2020 and the new staff of anchors and correspondents had been working for about a month when the university told students to not return to campus after spring break.
“This past year has been a test of my ability to navigate a changing world and be able to update a live show into a production that could be done from home,” Barisa said. “We worked our way from editing and uploading weekly recap shows on personal computers spread all across the country to making twice-a-week newscasts live from our new desk and steadily returning to normal. After a year of hard work, we’re ready to push NewsWatch forward into its future and put the pandemic behind us.”
This year’s SEJC conference was supposed to be held in mid-February at two universities in the New Orleans area, but it was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions. The awards ceremony was held virtually. There were no on-site competitions this year. Over the past decade, UM students dominated the on-site contests and frequently won the Grand Championship.
The MPA conference also was canceled because of the pandemic. Colleges were emailed results from judges.