Junior Sean Powers with CBS’s 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl, a member of the Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Awards Committee.
Columbia, Mo. (Dec. 7, 2007) — At 1 a.m. on a weekend night in 2006, Missouri School of Journalism sophomore Sean Powers was walking around the south part of the University of Missouri campus, carrying his tape recorder and looking for a party.
After being turned away several times, he finally found a willing host. He walked inside, switched on his recorder, and captured the sounds of drunken revelry – laughter, shouting, the belligerent dialogue of a drinking game. It was just the type of natural sound he had wanted to find.
A radio journalist, Powers was working on the second story of his four-part series, “Drinking on the Quad,” which recently earned him runner-up honors for the Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Award, a national honor specific to coverage of drug and alcohol issues.
Powers, now a junior, is the first student ever to be named a finalist in the awards contest, which typically honors the work of professional journalists. His coverage included a student-run van service for partygoers, Missouri’s drinking laws, the effects of alcohol advertising and possible solutions to underage drinking.
“They didn’t actually know I was a student until after they gave me the award,” said Powers, who rubbed elbows with some of the nation’s top radio journalists at the recent awards ceremony in New York City.
Powers with ABC News journalist Bob Woodruff at the awards ceremony.
Finalists and winners of the 2007 Nancy Dickerson Whitehead Awards are, from left: Tara Tuckwiller, The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette; Sean Powers, KBIA; Lou Michel, The Buffalo (N.Y.) News; Marisa Penaloza and John Burnett, National Public Radio; and a winner from HBO.
Powers, a Chicago native with career aspirations of working for NPR in Chicago, started the project as a freshman, more than a year before he gained entry into the Missouri School of Journalism. It aired Aug. 15-18, 2006, on local station KBIA, an award-winning NPR affiliate which serves as a working laboratory for students majoring in radio-television journalism.
“Sean has been a very rare contribution to the KBIA newsroom,” KBIA news director Janet Saidi said. “He is incredibly willing. He is tireless. Anything that is going on, he is there and ready.”
Indeed, Saidi said she still is a little “bleary-eyed” from a late-night phone conversation she had with Powers after the No. 1-ranked Missouri football team lost to Oklahoma Dec. 1 in the Big XII championship game in San Antonio. As usual, he was in the thick of the action, patrolling the crowd with a tape recorder and building the elements of compelling radio coverage.
Saidi said she had an opportunity recently to speak with one of the award representatives. “They were very surprised that this was done by a student,” she said, “and not just by a student but a freshman.” Powers’ four-part series also won 14th place in the 2007 Hearst Journalism Awards contest and a Mark of Excellence Award from the Society of Professional Journalists.