2012 Scholars Named (updated)

Update: The judge wishes to add three students for recognition.

The winners of the 2012 Jeff Zaslow College Columnist Award of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Education Foundation were announced over the weekend.

Jesse Rifkin
Jesse Rifkin

First place and a $1,000 scholarship goes to Jesse Rifkin, a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science at the University of Connecticut.

Second place ($500) goes to Allena Berry, Vanderbilt University, a senior majoring in human and organizational development, and U.S. history. Third place ($250) goes to Chris Grillot, Louisiana State University, a senior majoring in journalism and English.

In addition to the scholarship check, Rifkin will be the guest of the society at its 36th annual conference, May 3-6, 2012, in Macon, Ga.

This year’s winners were selected by John Avlon, senior columnist for Newsweek and the Daily Beast and co-editor of the book Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns. Semi-final judges for the 2012 competition were Suzette Martinez Standring, Dave Astor and Ben S. Pollock of the NSNC.

Avlon’s comment on his first-place choice:

Jesse Rifkin’s columns for for the University of Connecticut’s Daily Campus go beyond simple opinion writing toward the classic reported column – using individuals’ stories to frame larger issues. The result is compelling reading, deft use of interviews that allow people to tell their own stories, setting the stage for thoughtful examinations of serious issues – whether it is local businesses being squeezed out, ruminations on past college pranks that proved unwise, or the story behind the street corner musician we might walk past every day. The insight, research and reporting all combine to create great storytelling for the reader.”

In judges’ comments, Pollock says about Rifkin: “Jesse employs journalism. In a few hundred words he captures the 82-year-old proprietor of a bookshop whose landlord is forcing her out. He fascinates with a look at a 51-year-old college newspaper prank, and interviews its editor at the time.

Avlon’s comment on his second-place choice:

Allena Berry’s voice shines through brightly in her columns for The Vanderbilt Hustler. Like many classic columnists, she uses humor to prosecute her point, but she seems to steer away from unkindness even when criticizing. Proudly contrarian, she is not strident or predictable. And when she reaches to the political from the personal, the effect is seamless, entertaining and often insightful.”

Astor writes in the judges’ comments, “Allena Berry writes with insight and humor about race, our digital world, celebrity indiscretions, and more. She is not afraid to use (without overusing) statistics to buttress her excellent points.”

Avlon’s comment on his third-place choice:

LSU is lucky to have Chris Grillot keeping an eye on state and local issues for The Daily Reveille. He ties sometimes obscure stats and facts to solid local reporting, all combining to make a compelling argument. His columns show range and a sense of perspective, whether it is local history or telling inconsistencies in tax holidays that reveal a larger political agenda. The result is a wake-up call to local politicians, delivered with the clarity of common sense backed up by solid research and reporting.

Standring in her comments notes, “[Grillot’s] writing style is conversational but carries authority. He offers solid solutions to problems presented. A great metro columnist in the making.”

Honorable Mentions, by John Avlon

“Reading through the selections for the college columnist finalists I have been heartened to see the quality of work being done on campuses across the country. Special honorable mention should go to these three columnists, whose work is also of the highest quality.

Christopher Haxel‘s opinion columns for the University of Maryland have a strong and uncompromising voice, using vivid humor to hammer home a point. His insights are strong and against the grain, reflecting deeper insight and less tolerance for conventional wisdom than many columnists his age and older.

Molly Skyles offers a deft use of language, memorable phrasing and framing in her columns for Truman State University – novel takes on stories that are often themselves not obvious column fodder. Her columns on OMG and the contraception debates were particularly strong and could resonate with a larger audience.

Connor Stangler‘s columns for Truman State University fearlessly delve into intellectual debates with clarity and a sense of momentum. His opinion takes on topics that are too often left in dorm room debates and successfully translates them to the opinion page – no small feat.”

The 2012 Jeff Zaslow College Columnist Awards comprise the 14th annual scholarship presentation by the NSNC Education Foundation and the first in memory of Zaslow, the honored Wall Street Journal columnist and best-selling author who died in February 2012.

Congratulations to all our winners!


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