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Last modified: Tuesday, June 11, 2013

IU journalism student wins Hearst National Writing Championship

June 11, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University School of Journalism senior Charlie Scudder won the Hearst Journalism Awards Program's Intercollegiate Writing Competition National Championship, the organization announced Thursday during an awards ceremony in San Francisco.

Charles Scudder

Charlie Scudder

Print-Quality Photo

Scudder received $5,000 and a medallion for his achievement. Claire Wiseman, a 2013 journalism graduate who also competed, received a cash prize as a finalist, and IU, which ended the overall competition in seventh place, will receive a medallion and matching grant.

"I was shocked when they called my name," said Scudder, of Colleyville, Texas. "I wasn't expecting anything whatsoever, especially seeing the level of talent among the other finalists. This was a fantastic group of writers all around."

Scudder and Wiseman were two of eight finalists from around the nation invited to compete in the 53rd annual event. Finalists complete three reporting assignments over the course of four days in the city, with three top newspaper editors judging their work.

"The Hearst awards are far and away the most prestigious honors in collegiate journalism, and they are accurately referred to as the Pulitzers of college journalism," said journalism professor of practice Tom French, BA'81, who won a real Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for his feature writing at the St. Petersburg Times. He has taught and coached IU's Hearst entrants for the past four years.

"These students know that if they win, they get not just bragging rights, but scholarship money and a huge stamp of credibility for their resumes," he added. "Often the winners end up with internships and jobs because hiring editors know what Hearst means."

All the finalists wrote on the same topics: a profile of California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, coverage of a press conference with Newsom and a feature on finding affordable housing in San Francisco. They knew in advance that Newsom would be a source, but they learned about the housing story Monday evening, with fewer than 48 hours to research, report and write the piece.

"Essentially, they're dropped into the streets of San Francisco, where they then race against the clock and one another to win the top prize," said French, who was a Hearst finalist himself, placing second in the 1980 national championship. "It's the Hunger Games of college journalism."

Scudder's idea for that piece focused on finding a "hacker house," a place where young people live, work and collaborate on tech projects. He found a few leads, tried contacting some sources with little luck, and, with a deadline looming, decided to just show up at a house he'd heard about.

"It was at the top of a steep hill, and I was so out of breath from the climb that they let me in to give me water," he said. After that, he talked his way into an interview and made his deadline.

Making it to the finals in San Francisco took skill as well. The Hearst Journalism Awards Program conducts a series of five monthly contests for the Intercollegiate Writing Competition, as well as separate contests for photojournalism, radio broadcast, television broadcast and multimedia. Students submit previously published work in each of the five writing categories, and those who win first place automatically land a trip to the finals. The other three finalists are those who earn the most points in second through 20th place.

In the monthly series, Scudder won first place in the college personality profile category for "A Queen Comes Home," published in the Indiana Daily Student, a story about the first and last black Miss IU. He also won sixth in sports reporting. Wiseman won first in sports writing for "The story behind the score," also published in the IDS, and third in enterprise reporting. Several other IU students placed in the contest, and their efforts contributed to the school's overall points. IU finished second in the overall writing portion of the monthly series.

Scudder's win sets the bar even higher for IU journalism students, who have done well in the Hearst competition in recent years. Danielle Paquette won the national writing contest in 2011, and Caitlin Johnston was second. Last year, Biz Carson won second place in the national competition.