The Society of Professional Journalists has named Eastern Kentucky University’s student chapter as the winner of the Campus Program of the Year award. The national award recognizes EKU SPJ’s most recent First Amendment Week program, titled “Guardians and the War on Truth,” which took place in April.
The four-day program included a panel discussion of Kentucky journalists about the challenges, harassment and threats they face in performing their jobs; a Memorial for International Journalists honoring reporters who lost their lives in pursuit of the truth; discussions on freedom of information and freedom of religion; and a podcast series on banned books. EKU President Michael T. Benson and President Emeritus Charles Whitlock spoke and signed a proclamation affirming the University’s support of student media and First Amendment rights.
"Along with my predecessor, President Doug Whitlock, we were honored to participate in the First Amendment Week activities planned by our students and the Department of Communication at EKU," Benson said. “The Memorial Service, in particular, was a memorable and sobering event that honored people around the world who lost their lives in defense of liberties and rights that too often we take for granted in our country.”
EKU SPJ had been one of eight finalists selected from college chapters throughout the nation. The runner up for the Campus Program of the Year award was California State University-Sacramento, which hosted a presentation and art exhibition relating to news coverage of the relocation of immigrants and refugees.
The recognition came as a surprise to EKU SPJ members, who had submitted an annual report about First Amendment Week to the national organization but didn’t know it would be considered for an award, said Jennifer K. Perkins, a senior journalism and history major and current president of EKU SPJ.
“We didn’t actually know that we had won the award until we saw the SPJ national organization’s tweet,” she said. As word spread among students and faculty, “we were so excited and so happy to be recognized.”
In a news release about the award, the national SPJ organization said the 2019 First Amendment Week “impressed SPJ’s regional directors and regional coordinators, who served as judges for these awards.”
Immediate past president of EKU SPJ Collin Overton, who graduated in Spring 2019 and now works as a reporter at the Madison Courier in Indiana, said the award was well-deserved.
“I’m proud of the people I was lucky to share my last semester of school with. I’m proud that their hard work paid off,” he said. First Amendment Week “was a huge effort and one that took weeks of planning and putting our heads together.”
Dr. Ginny Whitehouse, a professor in the Department of Communication and chapter adviser for EKU SPJ, echoed Overton’s statement, noting how proud she was of the dedication and professionalism of EKU SPJ members.
“Our students strive to be multimedia journalists who know how to use their First Amendment freedoms to serve their communities,” she said.
First Amendment Week is an annual series of panels and events across EKU’s campus that highlights the importance of freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion to a functional democracy. The event is organized by EKU SPJ, with coordination from the Department of Communication and other sponsors. The next First Amendment Week event will occur in Spring 2020; themes and topics of discussion are still in the works, Perkins said.
Perkins said winning the national award was especially impactful because EKU SPJ’s executive team consists of just three student members this semester: herself; Vice President Samantha Tamplin; and Secretary/Treasurer Zach Combest.
“We’re a small chapter, but an extremely hardworking chapter,” she said.
Students interested in learning more about EKU SPJ or joining can contact Perkins at firstname.lastname@example.org. Members are welcome from all academic programs.