‘Vol’ Columnist Takes Top College Prize

Jeff Zaslow College Columnist Award

RJ Vogt
RJ Vogt

A new graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, is the 2015 recipient of the Jeff Zaslow College Columnist Award of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists Education Foundation. RJ Vogt, writing for the campus newspaper The Daily Beacon, was chosen by best-selling novelist Michael Koryta, a former newspaper reporter.

“The best columnists are those who prioritize story over voice,” Koryta writes in his judge’s comments, “and RJ Vogt excels in this area. Vogt displays not only unusual writing talent, but the ability to conceive of — and then execute — stories from a unique perspective. Rather than settle for the traditional point of view, he constantly seeks to find the best lens for the story, and then writes with subtle power.”

Koryta made his three selections from the six college journalists chosen by former NSNC presidents Suzette Martinez Standring and Ben Pollock from the pool of applicants.

Pollock says of the winner: “Vogt takes the column craft seriously with appropriate reporting and finding unique angles. He blends a meditation on Martin Luther King Jr. with watching Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston playing LBJ on stage, and meeting him afterward. Vogt in exploring a homeless camp sees residents burn a free weekly for fuel, noting the little newspaper just folded. He describes the house and routines of a disabled veteran so we come to know him, though Vogt doesn’t name him.”

Vogt will not be able to attend NSNC’s annual conference — a perquisite of the first-place scholar with complementary registration, hotel and travel. Vogt, a senior this past term, is moving to Yangon, Myanmar (Burma), to work as a reporter at the Myanmar Times, according to the credit line of his last column in The Daily Beacon, “An Open Letter to My Former Self.” Vogt’s main prize from the NSNC Education Foundation is $1,000.

According to his bio page at the campus newspaper, Vogt’s last post there was training editor (a new position) following stints as editor-in-chief, managing editor, news editor, copy editor and staff writer. His major was “college scholars,” an interdisciplinary, self-designed honors program. Vogt focused on literary journalism. He has written for Esquire, Scoop Magazine, the Medal of Honor Project and East Tennessee Children’s Hospital. His senior thesis investigated Knoxville’s chronically homeless population. He graduated in May 2015.

Following are Vogt’s submitted columns:

The Laurence Cohen Presidential Award goes to the second-place finisher. Its 2015 recipient is Abigail Student, who penned “Dear Abby,” a sex and relationship column for The Daily Evergreen of Washington State University, Pullman. Student graduated this spring with a degree in strategic communication. According to LinkedIn, she now is working in Chicago as a reproductive services counselor while also blogging for the Kinsey Institute of Indiana University, Bloomington.

NSNC Education Foundation“Abigail Student writes with grace and eloquence,” Koryta says, “refusing to allow the reader to remain in the comfort zone. Her understanding of how effective language can shape the sense of a shared experience between writer and subject is one of her greatest strengths.”

“As the sex and relationship columnist, Student is an impressive storyteller, using dialogue to highlight the humanity of those struggling with transgender and HIV/AIDS issues,” writes Standring. “While conversational, she is straightforward with facts and addresses personal issues head on.”

Sarah Durham, whose column has run in the Columbia Daily Spectator, takes third place. Koryta writes that she “is a wonderful writer with a marvelous, meditative style. Her columns show aggressive technique and remarkable style, as well as a deeply thoughtful mind fully engaged with the work. I expect to see her byline in a major publication very soon, should she choose to pursue writing, and this reader hopes that she does.”

“Durham makes a genuine connection, shining a light on the surface of being clueless-in-college, and revealing the rich veins of potential just beneath. She role-models authenticity on the hard dig to Self,” says Standring.

Durham just completed her junior year at Columbia College in New York City, majoring in history with a concentration in philosophy.

Michael Koryta is The New York Times best-selling author of nine suspense novels. His 10th, Last Words, is scheduled to be released in hardback by Little Brown & Co. this August. Koryta started his writing career as a newspaper reporter at The Herald-Times in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, where he still lives. He is a graduate of Indiana University where he also has taught in the School of Journalism, now The Media School.

The NSNC Education Foundation, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, sponsors the scholarship program. One source of funding is the silent auction held at the annual NSNC conference. Details for this June’s auction can be found in the article “Looking for Auction Items.” A list of previous scholarship recipients is maintained at the College Columnists Hall of Fame page.

The contest is open to undergraduates (including seniors) who write bylined general interest, editorial-page or specialized (humor, sports, business, arts etc.) columns that are published in the print or online editions of college newspapers, i.e., one whose main circulation is on a university or college campus. There is no entry fee.

First place honors the memory of the best-selling author and Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow, who died in February 2012 in an auto accident at age 53. Second place commemorates Larry Cohen, the Connecticut-based columnist who died in August of the same year of heart disease at age 64; he had been elected NSNC president the previous May.

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This article originally was published in the June 2015 edition of the member newsletter The Columnist.


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