June 28, 2022
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Prof. Brian Champagne accepts Clifford Cheney Award for Service to Journalism

Aggie journalists honored for reporting, service to community

Dozens of Utah State University students, alumni and faculty members have been honored by the state chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. 
Among the winners were two undergraduates who received professional awards for reporting focused on religion. 

Melody Cook, a resident of Missouri who is pursuing a bachelor's degree through the Department of Journalism and Communication's new online degree program, received the top award for religion writing in the chapter's Division B, which includes weekly professional publications and university news organizations. The article for which she was awarded was focused on "Latter-day seekers," members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who have grown disillusioned with that denomination over its treatment of LGBTQ members and who have found belonging in a smaller Mormon sect, the Missouri-based Community of Christ. 

The article for which fellow student Karcin Harris was honored was also about disillusioned Latter-day Saints, but focused on those who have distanced themselves from that faith after watching fellow believers refuse to wear masks and get vaccinations during the COVID-19 pandemic — despite church leaders' repeated encouragement to do so. Harris' article, which was published by The Salt Lake Tribune, took second place in the chapter's Division A, which includes professional daily news organizations. In a juxtaposition demonstrative of Harris' skillful work, the third-place award in that division went to Deseret News reporter Mya Jaradat, a USU adjunct professor who specializes in religion reporting.  

 "It's tremendously gratifying to see these students are not just working at a professional level but being honored among professional peers, long before they graduate," said Susan Polster, the USU journalism department head. "It's such a testament to their hard work and to their professors, who are so dedicated to ensuring their students are fully prepared for the industry they're entering." 

 To that end, broadcast journalism professor Brian Champagne was presented with the Clifford Cheney Award for Service to Journalism, one of the state chapter's top honors. The awards committee commended Champagne for his work combatting the conventional but wrongful notion that "there are no jobs in journalism." Much to the contrary, students working under Champagne's direction don’t just graduate into broadcast reporting and producing roles — they often have multiple job offers waiting, long before they get to graduation day. 

That was the case for Erin Cox, who was already freelancing for Salt Lake City-based Fox13 when she graduated from USU in 2018 and almost immediately secured a full-time position with that news station. Cox, now a special projects reporter at KSL-TV in Salt Lake City, won multiple awards in the contest, including first place honors for a personality profile about a young boy suffering from two rare genetic disorders and a feature on the families of military members killed in the line of duty. She has credited Champagne with being her most influential professor.  

 Cox's former classmate at USU and current colleague at KSL, news photographer Jeff Dahdah, agreed. "The skills that Brian demands his students learn," Dahdah said when Champagne was nominated for the award, "are the ones that are in demand.” 

 Champagne understands those skills in no small part because he has never stopped working as a journalist. He regularly takes on projects in across Utah for news stations across the nation — and also won several awards for his work, including a first-place honor for a radio documentary that aired on Utah Public Radio about the power of laughter.  

 The second-place award in that same category went to Aggie undergraduates Raegan Edelman and Clayre Scott for their long-form feature on a former nunnery in Logan Canyon that many locals believe to be haunted. 

 Scott is also the producer for UnDisciplined, a science-themed program on UPR, founded by associate professor Matthew LaPlante, that also won multiple awards. Among the show's honors were a first-place honor for solutions journalism — reporting that investigates and explains the effectiveness of responses to social problems. 

 The Lifetime Achievement Award went to USU Eastern alumni, Todd Curtis, who spent the past 35 years as copy editor of the Deseret News. His advice to students revolves around mistakes. "We journalists aren’t shy about pointing out each other’s mistakes and heaven knows, I’ve made plenty. Making a ‘boo-boo’ always makes you remember to not do it again.” 

 "For faculty at most universities, when you attend these sorts of awards banquets, you usually get to be there to watch your alumni succeed — and we have lots of those successes," LaPlante said. "But at Utah State, we have this really delightful thing happening right now where our students are competing with us for these awards, as collaborators sometimes and other times as independent professionals. It's such a thrill."