Sky Chadde and Allison Pohle Win Dean’s Award for Feature Writing

School’s Mastering the Method Competition Recognizes Outstanding Undergraduate Work

By Rebecca Dell

Columbia, Mo. (Nov. 10, 2014) — Allison Pohle and Sky Chadde won the Dean’s Award for feature writing in the Mastering the Method contest at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The contest, inaugurated in 2013, recognizes exemplary undergraduate work in broadcast, multimedia, photography and writing. The two winners in each of the 14 categories receive a $100 gift card.

Pohle’s and Chadde’s stories were selected from 44 entries.

More about the winning stories below:

Sky Chadde
Sky Chadde

Chadde’s “True/False Film Fest’s David Wilson Captures Small-Town Life in First Feature Film” was published in Vox Magazine on Nov. 14, 2013. Chadde, BJ ’14, studied magazine journalism and is currently a fellow at the Dallas Observer. Chadde is originally from Socorro, New Mexico.

Judges’ Comments:

In his story, Sky Chadde combines the elements of all good narrative features: deep reporting, an engaging character, an intriguing complication and a resolution that leaves readers engrossed in world they likely knew little about. Especially impressive is the structure of the story that compresses five years into an engaging read.

Chadde shares how he came to write his story:

This story was actually assigned to me. I was a contributing writer at Vox, and I jumped at the opportunity to write my first long magazine feature. Up to that point, I had mostly written for newspapers, including the Columbia Missourian.

The reporting was fairly easy and straightforward. Director David Wilson had agreed to sit down with me, and the rest of the sources in the story came from him. He gave me the numbers of the people in Branson, his co-director and producers, and his mother. The hardest part was trying to find times that worked for the filmmakers to talk. Everyone was really open and willing to speak about her or his experiences with the documentary.

But I had a lot of time to work with, which would prove to be a godsend, especially when I sat down to write it. The story was slated to run Nov. 14 to coincide with the documentary’s showing at the St. Louis International Film Festival, its first Missouri showing, and I believe I took it on the last week of September. Due to his traveling schedule, Wilson couldn’t sit down for an interview until the first week of October.

The first sit-down was 20 minutes long. I think he fit me in between meetings. We sat down a week later for about 40 minutes. He had got back from Portland, I believe, the night before, and he had yet another meeting to run off to (or something). So, ultimately, I only had about an hour to gather all the information I could. I called him a few times to flesh some scenes out, but otherwise that was it.

During our second sit-down, Wilson said something that, to me, made the story. He said that, before he made this documentary, he didn’t feel like much of a filmmaker, which, if you asked around town, that would be the number one response you’d get about him. Making the documentary was his way of proving to himself he was a filmmaker.

Boom. Internal conflict.

Internal conflict, a key component of fiction, adds so much to a story. It adds tension, which makes people want to read on, to see how the story is resolved. And I had stumbled onto it!

To talk briefly about the writing process: I’d never written a narrative before. I struggled to discover what the beginning, middle and end should be. I turned in my first draft and John Fennell, the writing coach at Vox that semester, told me it was too much like a newspaper article. No scenes and no sense of character.

I just want to give a huge shout-out to Professor Fennell. He read through the seven or eight drafts I gave him, reading each one and offering constructive critiques. He told me to slow down and describe the settings. Then, once I did that, he told me to focus on the beginning of each section, making them as good as I possibly could, to really make people read on. He also suggested opening the story with the scene in which Wilson shows his subjects the doc for the first time.

Anyway, it was a lot of fun. Thanks for reading.

Allison Pohle
Allison Pohle

Pohle’s “Kirkwood Father Tries to Find Meaning in Daughter’s Death” was published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She wrote the story for professor Berkley Hudson‘s Advanced Writing class before pitching it to the Post-Dispatch. Pohle, BJ ’14, studied magazine journalism, minored in business, and currently works for The Nation Institute Investigative Fund in New York City. Pohle is originally from Cleveland, Ohio.

Judges’ Comments:

Allison Pohle’s quietly emotional story about a father coping with the death of his college-age daughter in a drunk driving accident brings to light the harsh reality of loss. Through her reporting and narrative approach, Pohle allows the story to unfold naturally, leaving readers to mull the consequences of the tragic aftermath.

Pohle shares how she came to write her article:

I first learned about Roy Ferguson after seeing his talk advertised on an Alcohol Responsibility Month poster last fall. I didn’t know Emily, and I hadn’t heard much about her accident or how it affected those she knew. When I found out that Roy was coming to speak about his daughter less than a year after she died, I was intrigued. I don’t believe there is a timeline for grieving, and as I got to know Roy, I saw how losing Emily shattered his world, but I was interested in why he thought this was the right time to speak about her death.

I emailed him to ask if he might be willing to talk to me about Emily, and he responded within 10 minutes to say that he would. I was really nervous to talk to him. Although he seemed more than willing to share their story, I wanted to be sensitive to what he was going through and to respect that there might be certain things he wasn’t willing to share.

After arranging an interview, I drove to St. Louis to meet with him in his house. When we finished talking, he showed me Emily’s room. Standing in her room made me start to think about what we leave behind when we die – a bed, clothes, photos and other material things, yes, but, most importantly, we leave behind people who love us.

I ended up talking to dozens of people who loved Emily. I wanted to learn more about who she was, what she cared about, and what she meant to other people. I knew that if I learned enough about her to make her relatable to others, they would care about her story. In this way, I “met” Emily after she died. And, every person I talked to had a different story about how special she was.

I thought it was interesting how only a few months after her death, her friends were already starting to lose parts of her from their memories. I remember asking her friends to describe what she looked like physically. They all remembered her blonde hair, but they couldn’t remember whether her eyes were blue or green. It made me realize that we take small details for granted, but these details are important in helping us distinguish who a person was.

Emily died too soon. She made a mistake and paid the ultimate price. Writing the story was challenging because I needed to explain how Emily’s excess drinking led to her death and acknowledge that she was accountable, but also address how tragic the sudden death of a 19-year-old is, especially when her friends and family members blamed themselves. Emily showed me that our actions, both good and bad, affect other people. Getting behind the wheel of the car after a few drinks might seem harmless, but no one is invincible. What happened to Emily could happen to anyone. I am so grateful for the chance to share Emily’s story, but it’s one I wish I didn’t have to write.

Updated: July 31, 2020

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