Last week, in Detroit, Michigan, seven members of the Yellow Jacket staff sat around a clothed table in the back of a hotel event room, fists clenched, awaiting the results for Best All-Around Non-Daily Newspaper, at the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Mark of Excellence Awards.
There would be two finalists, and one winner for the entire Region 4: Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
“Finalist: Central Michigan Life; Central Michigan,” said the proctor at the front of the room.
It was the last award of the day—a day that had been full of keynote speakers and reporting workshops for the young journalists clustered in the room.
“Finalist: Kent Stater: Kent State.”
There was a collective squeal at the Waynesburg table, as the implications set in. “Winner: The Yellow Jacket, Waynesburg University.”
Over the course of the awards ceremony, the Yellow Jacket acquired a total of 10 awards—sweeping two different categories, and winning its first ever photo illustration award, in addition to the coveted Best All-Around Non-Daily Newspaper. The Yellow Jacket had placed as a finalist in the category four times in the past, but had never before walked away as the winner.
According to Executive Editor, senior journalism major Kimmi Baston, the honor is a result of constant hard work and dedication from the entire staff.
“I am immensely proud of the entire Yellow Jacket staff and excited beyond words about this achievement, because it is well-deserved recognition of the hours and hours of hard work the staff puts in each week,” said Baston. “Specifically, to be recognized as the Best AllAround Non-Daily Newspaper in the region is a testament to the great teamwork of the staff and quality of each staff member’s contributions.”
Baston said it is an enormous accomplishment for the Yellow Jacket to be honored in any capacity.
“SPJ is the predominant membership organization for professional print, photo, television and radio journalists across the entire United States,” she said. “SPJ sets the ethical and practical standards for all journalists and is regarded in the highest esteem by many. Just to have a chapter on our campus is an honor and a privilege, let alone to be recognized in their student award competition.”
Incidentally, according to Baston, the Yellow Jacket’s awards come as especially noteworthy, given the size difference of the schools competing for Best AllAround.
“Because SPJ is so large, competing in the Mark of Excellence Awards in our region means going up against dozens of schools, many of which have strong, esteemed journalism programs,” she said. “To place for 10 awards in a single year among so many schools and in such an important organization illustrates that we are doing great things and are directly comparable to schools dozens of times our size.”
This year, the other finalists for Best All-Around Non-Daily Newspaper, Central Michigan University and Kent State University, have student bodies numbering around 27,000 and 40,000 students, respectively. Waynesburg University has about 1,400.
The sheer number of awards won from SPJ is a Yellow Jacket record, said Baston—and the staff also received 5 more awards from The Pennsylvania News Association (PNA) Student Keystone Press Awards. All in all, the Yellow Jacket has won 15 awards for the 2016 calendar year.
“I’m thrilled and amazed at our record number of awards, and so incredibly proud of the Yellow Jacket staff,” said Baston. “We were honored to pull in 11 awards last year, a new record at the time, so it’s an even greater honor to have shattered that record just a year later. It’s a testament to the growth the journalism program has seen over the last few years thanks to dedicated faculty, truly gifted students and an ever-progressing environment in the Department of Communication.”