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Journalism Students Win First Amendment Award for "Light of Day" Crime Reporting Project

Meadows students’ work honored by the Society of Professional Journalists

SMU Technology Reporting students (clockwise from top left) Shelby Foster, Brooks Powell, Andy Garcia, Natalie Posgate, Samantha Cangelosi and Meghan Sikkel show off multiple awards for the “Light of Day: Campus Crime” project.
(Photo by Natalie Blankenship/SMU Journalism)

SMU journalism students recently won the First Amendment Award in the Student Work category from the Fort Worth chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). The First Amendment Award for Student Work is given for “journalism in any platform – investigative, general news, feature, opinion – that makes excellent use of public records or that examines the issues of open records/open government.”

The award was given to the staffs of The Daily Campus and the former SMUDailyMustang.com, which jointly published a two-semester class project examining campus crime.

In spring and fall 2011, students in assistant professor Jake Batsell’s Technology Reporting classes collected and analyzed publicly available crime data to create interactive maps that allow SMU students, faculty and staff to explore crime around campus and surrounding neighborhoods. Over two semesters, the in-depth package also included six stories, photos, and a 21-point Clery Act Scorecard tracking SMU’s compliance with the federal law.

The students’ reporting contributed to the statewide Light of Day 2011 project. Light of Day is an initiative launched in 2004 by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas (FOIFT). Each year, the FOIFT selects a topic and works with journalism departments at universities across the state, encouraging them to undertake investigative reporting using public information laws.

Batsell, who also serves as faculty adviser to smudailycampus.com, called his students’ work “a mix of shoe-leather and computer-assisted reporting methods.”

“This project carried out our Journalism curriculum’s vision to equip students with new skills that help them stand out in a competitive media landscape,” Batsell said. “We hope SMU students and faculty will keep using these interactive crime maps as a tool to become more aware of crime trends in areas where they work, live and study.”

In March, the SMU students’ Light of Day project also won first place in the regional SPJ Mark of Excellence Awards, in addition to both first place (spring 2011 class) and second place (fall 2011 class) in the Texas Interscholastic Press Association’s in-depth reporting category.

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