After a year that saw the paper’s editor-in-chief threatened with having a subpoena served on her and included coverage of a catastrophic garage collapse that killed four construction workers at one of its campuses, The Reporter has been awarded a prestigious Associated Collegiate Press National Newspaper Pacemaker Award.
The award considered by some to be college journalism’s equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize, comes three years after Miami Dade College merged its three student newspapers to form the largest community college student publication in the state.
Awards were announced on Oct. 26 at the 92nd Annual Associated Collegiate Press/College Media Association National College Media Convention in New Orleans.
“This award means so much too so many of us,” said Gregory Castillo, a senior photographer on last year’s staff. “When we came together in 2010 to create The Reporter, we knew that we wanted to tell amazing stories through powerful journalism. This last year had an amazing amount of trials and tribulations for our staff, but we came together and put out a product we are proud of.”
The Reporter received the honor in the Two-Year College Newspaper category based on newspapers published during the 2012-13 school year. Pacemaker recipients were picked on the strength of coverage and content, quality of writing and reporting, leadership in the opinion page, evidence of in-depth reporting, design, photography, art and graphics.
Reporters and photographers on last year’s staff tackled one of the most heart wrenching stories student journalists at the College have had to deal with when a five-story parking garage under construction at West Campus collapsed on Oct. 10. Four construction workers were killed during the mayhem.
The incident occurred as a group of the paper’s top editors were on a bus headed to a state journalism convention in Daytona. When they were unsuccessful in persuading the bus driver to turn back so they could cover the incident, they galvanized into action using their cellphones to communicate with staffers not on the bus.
Within minutes, a team of reporters, photographers and videographers were on the ground at West Campus, interviewing witnesses, emergency personnel and College officials. What resulted was a special 20-page edition. The main story netted Castillo a first-place award for Best News Story from the Florida College System Publications Association this past October.
Another story chronicled by the staff of The Reporter involved an MDC student, Joaquin Amador Serrapio Jr., who threatened to kill President Barack Obama on Facebook. Karla Barrios, who served as the paper’s editor-in-chief last year, interviewed Serrapio shortly after U.S. District Judge Marcia G. Cooke sentenced him to three years probation, 250 hours of community service, and four months of home confinement.
In the interview, Serrapio was quoted as saying that the ordeal was humorous. The comments caught the attention of Cooke, who dragged him back into court to modify the terms of his probation.
Serrapio’s attorney, Alan Ross, argued that his clients words were taken out of context. He threatened to have a subpoena served on Barrios if she did not testify in court. In the end, Barrios was not forced to testify, and Cooke modified the terms of Serrapio’s probation to include 45 days in a halfway house, and extended his home confinement from four months to one year.
“This award is a testament to the hard work and dedication the staff of The Reporter put into the newspaper last year,” said Barrios, who is currently a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in global studies. “I’m proud of every single person who was a part of this great achievement. Last year we were lucky to have amazing stories to report on. We were taken outside of our comfort zone every issue and we managed to learn from our experiences.”
The ACP also awarded Castillo first-place in the Sports Picture category for a photo he took of Miami Heat superstar, LeBron James, during a game versus the Charlotte Bobcats. The category included four-year and two-year school entries.
“The Reporter was where I taught myself to shoot sports,” Castillo said. “Each MDC basketball, baseball, softball and volleyball game was a chance to get better every time. To win first place in the ACP with a photo of LeBron James just shows me how far I’ve come in my short career. The impact that this paper has had on me is undeniable, it’s been the launching pad to everywhere I’ve gotten.”
In addition, Agustin Toriz, who served as the paper’s Art Director last year, received an honorable mention from the ACP in the Newspaper Page/Spread category.
The 2013 Pacemaker Award is MDC’s first, in the newspaper category, in 21 years.
“This honor is a tribute to all of the students that have contributed to our program in the past seven years,” said Manolo Barco, who serves as the media adviser to The Reporter. “This wouldn’t be possible without all of their struggles and their ambition to seek the truth for the students of Miami Dade College.”