2012 YJI Student Journalism Contest Results

(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
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
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
, 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.
Keegan Award
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
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.
Bunnell Award
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
the “
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.
Youth Journalism
International has been educating the next generation of news professionals and
talented teens since 1994. Formally incorporated in 2007, it is a 501(c)(3)
educational non-profit public charity. Its website can be found at
The contest covered
work published in English between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2011. Those
eligible must be 19 or under and not working professionally. Results were
announced on May 3, 2012.
For more information,
please contact Jackie Majerus, Youth Journalism International’s executive
director, at (860) 523-9632 in Connecticut or write to
A complete list of
winners in every category can be found on Youth Journalism International’s website.