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Texas A&M student newspaper receives 2008 Pacemaker

Editor says staff put hours of work into daily publication

Published: Friday, November 20, 2009

Updated: Wednesday, July 25, 2012 21:07

2008 Pacemaker

The Battalion

One of the issues submitted for the 2008 Newspaper Pacemaker Award.

Baylor front page

The Battalion

One of the issues submitted for the 2008 Newspaper Pacemaker Awards.

The Battalion received the 2008 Newspaper Pacemaker Award, considered the collegiate equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize, at the 87th Annual National College Media Convention on Nov. 1.

The awards are considered to be the highest national honors for student journalists. Several issues from each newspaper's production schedule were selected at random to be judged, which ensures that to be competitive for a Pacemaker, a publication must show consistent quality over an academic year.

"The Pacemaker is college journalists' equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize and the highest honor that could be bestowed upon a college newspaper," said Robert Wegener, the general manager of Student Media. "It is a recognition of all of the hard work that is constantly put into the newspaper, and I am really proud of the staff."

Judges select Pacemaker Finalists and Pacemakers based on the following: coverage and content, quality of writing and reporting, leadership on the opinion page, evidence of in-depth reporting, design, photography, art and graphics.

"To be a part of the Pacemaker is historic; The Batt has never been a part of it," said Kevin Alexander, 2008 enterprise editor at The Battalion, the student newspaper at Texas A&M University since 1893. "It is a humongous honor and it makes the four years of working there all worth it."

Brent Shirley, the 2007-2008 editor in chief, said he was very excited and surprised to hear the news because it's the best honor a college newspaper can hope for.

"Honestly, I didn't expect for us to win it because A&M has not been recognized in the upper level of newspapers in a long time, so when I heard that not only did we become a finalist but we won [a] Pacemaker, I was very excited," Shirley said.

"The people who worked last year poured hours of work into it and were very deserving, and I am honored to be a part of it."

The Pacemaker award was presented by the Associated Collegiate Press and the Newspaper Association of America Foundation in Kansas City, Mo.

The finalists were whittled down from the 241 student newspapers that entered the competition to 48. The newspapers submitted were evaluated by the professional journalists of the St. Petersburg Times in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Entry for the Pacemaker includes submitting papers from four assigned weeks and one additional issue of choice. The award considers work published during the 2007-2008 academic year, when The Battalion was led by Editor-in-Chief Shirley, who graduated with a telecommunication media studies degree in May 2008.

"I'm excited because that was one of the goals we had going into the year," Shirley said. "We did really well last year, digging deeper, doing better design."

Also, Alexander, one of 29 finalists for the Design of the Year award, received honorable mention.

The news of the selection surprised those who worked on the papers sent for consideration. "I basically did a back flip," said Alexander, The Battalion's summer editor in chief. "It's like being considered for the MVP award in baseball or basketball. It's the greatest honor."

Alexander, a senior English major, was responsible for picking the issues sent to judges as a part of his duties as summer editor-in-chief. He said it came down to finding the papers with the best content - especially on the Opinion pages.

"I'm thrilled," Wegener said. "It's a way to recognize the hard work, the hours students put into producing a paper for this campus."

The recognition comes after a major realignment in the newsroom and in the paper, spurred by the arrival of adviser Cheri Shipman from The Dallas Morning News in October 2006.

The structure of the newsroom changed in order to physically create teamwork. Editors and copy editors were placed side by side in order to encourage discussion about content and planning. Student editors overseeing sections became responsible for content of pages while copy editors and artists concentrated on display.

"Each week student editors would attend planning sessions and create budgets two weeks in advance of deadline. Most weeks, students accomplished their personal goals to have packages ready in advance," Shipman said.

The enterprise editor was encouraged to move beyond the average daily story and produce unique content focused on issues facing students. "I believe encouraging civic journalism opened the eyes of all the staff on problems they did not know existed and it showed them how journalism can inform communities of social injustices," she said. "Sadly, they also learned that most newspapers these days are shying away from projects like theirs. This experience will stay with them for their lifetime."

Since Shipman came to A&M, Alexander said, The Battalion has placed a greater emphasis on better serving the students in terms of campus coverage, and in the paper's overall attitude, by trying to appeal to its college-age audience.

"In the editors' orientation, I charged them with thinking outside the box and being as creative as they can be. Some days we achieved this, some days we didn't. But, getting them to think about it and accept it was an accomplishment," Shipman said.

"I've been here three years, and the paper doesn't look anything like it did before," Alexander said.

The Battalion has had a gradual adjustment in design since Shirley took over as editor in August 2007, featuring more art and feature packages in its pages, and editors have pushed for a more conversational tone in stories, Alexander said.

Wegener, who also advises the student journalists, said he and Shipman have pushed the staff to realize who their readership is, and serve them. "Think," he said, "who's reading this, and why?"

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