Spectrum editors place in Society of Professional Journalists national competition


The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) announced Thursday two current editors and one former editor of The Spectrum have placed in the SPJ’s Mark of Excellence regional awards competition.

Current Editor in Chief Sara DiNatale, Managing Editor Emma Janicki and former Managing Editor Lisa Khoury are in the top three for the categories of breaking news, general news reporting and investigative reporting, respectively.

“Being recognized in any way by the SPJ is so meaningful and a huge testament to The Spectrum,” Khoury said. “The Spectrum went 60-plus years without getting any awards; we go from that to three of us this year being nominated for an SPJ.”

The Spectrum has won 17 national awards in the past five years.

SPJ’s Mark of Excellence awards are divided into 12 regions; The Spectrum is part of region one. There were 511 entries in region one, according to Abbi Martzall, SPJ’s awards coordinator.

The Spectrum’s three articles are in the top three in their respective categories, according to Martzall. The exact placement will be announced at the Region 1 Spring Conference April 17-18 at Hofstra University.

Winning articles in their respective categories will go on to compete at the national level.

“These are the most prestigious awards for college journalism. These are like the Pulitzer Prize of college journalism,” said Jody Kleinberg Biehl, director of UB’s Journalism Certificate Program and adviser to The Spectrum.

DiNatale, a senior English major, was nominated for her breaking news article, “Law School Dean Makau Mutua resigns.”

DiNatale wrote the article within 24 hours of the former dean’s resignation. Mutua stepped down amid allegations of lying in federal court and in a state administrative proceeding.

“Breaking news truly tests everything you learn as a reporter. You have to be fast, but accurate. You have to craft a narrative people want to read and can understand, but you don’t have the luxury of sitting with it for weeks,” DiNatale said. “There’s nothing like that rush and informing the campus about something they need to know about.”

Mutua continues to teach at UB as a SUNY Distinguished Professor and Floyd H. and Hilda L. Hurst Faculty Scholar.

“Publishing textbooks can mean big money for professors,” by Janicki, a senior English major, in the general news reporting category.

The article examined the undergraduate programs’ administrator and adjunct associate professor of classics Donald McGuire and research professor of biostatistics Dietrich Kuhlmann’s self-published textbooks. Janicki found UB has no policy on whether a professor can require students to purchase their own textbooks – even if students are paying the professor directly in cash.

The Spectrum decided to look into the issue after some staff writers told us they had to buy their professors’ books and really just didn’t know if it was ethical or legal,” Janicki said. “I got a lot of different opinions from people about it while I was writing the piece and was surprised to find nothing on the books about it from UB or SUNY.” Currently, UB’s Faculty Senate is reviewing the university’s lack of policy on the issue. The Faculty Senate Executive Committee plans to submit a resolution to the Faculty Senate at its May meeting.

“Now, it’s kind of like my baby. It’s interesting to see how it’s all playing out,” Janicki said.

Khoury’s article “Animal Heights” was nominated in the investigative reporting category. The article previously won fourth place for 2014 Story of the Year by the Associated Collegiate Press.

Khoury also won a national SPJ Mark of Excellence Award for in-depth reporting and first place in the Camayak Student Media Competition Award in Best Investigative Journalism Production for her article “The Heights of Fear” in 2013.

During her seven-month investigation for “Animal Heights,” Khoury uncovered five illegal fraternities at UB. She proved the fraternities have drug-selling operations and engage in harsh hazing rituals and underage drinking. UB and the national fraternities the groups masquerade under have done very little – often nothing – to shut the groups down.

National news organizations like USA Today College and the Huffington Post picked up her story and reported on it.

“[Being recognized for my work] only makes me more excited for the future,” Khoury said. “It inspires me to do more of impactful journalism – that’s why I got into this field in the first place.”

The Spectrum is the largest student-run newspaper in the SUNY system and the second largest in the state, after Syracuse University’s The Daily Orange.

Biehl said the awards are “a testament to the integrity and capability” of the students.

“I’m so proud of the students and their hard work,” Biehl said. “The time and energy they put into these pieces show, and I’m thrilled they’re getting the recognition they deserve.”

Janicki has been working for The Spectrum for just over a year, but said she’s happy those she’s worked alongside are being recognized for their “incredible work.”

Over 50 UB students work for the paper, producing three times a week. The Spectrum publishes 7,000 copies of each issue and updates its website daily.

DiNatale, who will be interning at The Boston Globe this summer, said she is proud of her staff and fellow reporters for their work.

“It always feels good to be rewarded for your labors – but that’s not why we do the work we do,” DiNatale said. “These three stories exemplify what journalism is about. Journalism can effect real change, and that’s the real reward.”

Khoury, who currently interns at ABC News, said winning an SPJ shows how members of The Spectrum become “better journalists together.”

“We all learn journalism on the field. We did it as a team. We all motivated each other,” Khoury said. “It’s a testament to what we can accomplish as a paper that isn’t controlled by its student government or the university’s administration. It shows how we as a staff and as a team supported each other and motivated each other.”

Alyssa McClure is the Copy Chief and can be reached at alyssa.mcclure@ubspectrum.com