Three students at Missouri School of Journalism score top 10 finishes in Hearst Journalism Awards

John Murphy, Hunter Walterman, Aryana Hadjimohammedi

By Austin Fitzgerald

COLUMBIA, Mo. (April 18, 2024) — Three students at the Missouri School of Journalism have earned top ten finishes in recent Hearst Journalism Awards competitions, adding to a growing number of honors from the prestigious program to Mizzou journalism students.

John Murphy
John Murphy

In the Television News Competition, senior John Murphy earned third place — which comes with a $1,500 award — while junior Hunter Walterman won eighth place, both for their work at KOMU-TV, the Missouri News Network’s NBC affiliate TV station. In the Personality/Profile Writing Competition, senior Aryana Hadjimohammadi took home fourth place and $1,000 for stories for the Columbia Missourian, the Missouri News Network’s community newspaper.

“Hearst continues to recognize the value of the excellent community reporting coming from students at the School of Journalism,” said David Kurpius, dean of the School. “The School’s news outlets seek to serve the community with accurate and impactful coverage, and seeing that work honored on a national scale reflects that  students are more than up to the task.”

Hunter Walterman
Hunter Walterman

Elizabeth Frogge, an associate professor and managing editor of KOMU, said the awards reflect the variety of reporting students produce at the station.

“It doesn’t matter if feature or hard news or investigation, as long as the reporting is there,” Frogge said. “This is really good storytelling — John took stories that weren’t very visual and found ways to make them visual, and to see Hunter placing in the top 10 as a junior out of 70-plus entries from 40-plus universities makes me really proud of the work we are doing.”

Murphy won for two KOMU stories from late 2023: “Breaking down foreign-owned farmland in Missouri,” which dove deep into the issue of whether Chinese companies are buying large amounts of Missouri farmland, and “How the Missouri legal system makes it easier to be sentenced to death,” which revealed that Missouri is one of only two states to allow a single judge to hand down the death penalty at sentencing.

Aryana Hadjimohammadi
Aryana Hadjimohammadi

“If you were to turn the clock back 18 months, I wouldn’t have thought this was at all possible,” Murphy said, reflecting on how far he has come since first setting foot in the KOMU studio. “I’m just incredibly grateful that we have this program and this opportunity to go from having never covered any news at all to, 18 months later, having stories that are finalists for a Hearst Award.”

Murphy turned in the stories as part of his capstone course — taught by assistant professor and executive producer David Estsrad Orúe — which asks students to complete two long-term “enterprise stories” that are self-driven rather than drawn from a press release.

Murphy stressed the importance of help from fellow students, professors and newsroom managers for the team effort of bringing a story to fruition, something Walterman also emphasized.

“The managers at the station really want to see you succeed, and you can tell that they have a passion for teaching and for helping students,” Walterman said. “It’s an incredible program, and there is nothing else like it anywhere. I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had to grow as a reporter and as a person.”

Walterman’s Hearst submission consisted of four KOMU stories, which covered the impacts of a statewide drought, Missouri’s efforts to combat staffing shortages in the state’s prisons, a lawsuit over Columbia’s recycling program and the rising enrollment at a local technical college.

But the Hearst honors weren’t confined to broadcast journalism. Hadjimohammadi’s win was for a profile in the Missourian on Dorsa Derakhshani, a member of Mizzou’s chess team and only the second Iranian woman ever to become a chess international master.

“Her story was just so impactful and inspiring, and I thought that if I could just share it with the world, that would be an achievement,” Hadjimohammadi said. “But to be recognized for it feels pretty amazing.”

Hadjimohammadi, who is also from Iran, connected with Derakhshani’s story of overcoming barriers to find success. In fact, upon learning the grandmaster would only be available for an interview during Thanksgiving Break, the choice between the story and spending time with family over the break was clear: Hadjimohammadi chose to do the interview.

“Reporting that story was a joyous experience for Ary, who not only connected with the chess player on a personal level but also had a chance to explore Ary’s own Iranian heritage,” said Gordon Dickson, an assistant professor and the story’s editor. “Ary has grown tremendously as a reporter and news writer this school year.”

Dickson and Hadjimohammadi both noted that senior Emmaline Luetkemeyer, assistant city editor at the Missourian, played an important role as a peer mentor. Dickson said that the combination of Hadjimohammadi’s work and Luetkemeyer’s guidance resulted in a story that needed very little editing.

Beyond this trio of top ten finishers, a graduate student and two recent graduates earned top finishes in Hearst competitions over the last few months.

Halle Jackson, BJ ’23, earned ninth place in the Audio Competition for her work at KBIA-FM, the Missouri News Network’s NPR-member station (for which she also recently earned a Gracie Award). In the same competition, Katie Quinn, BJ ’23, finished in the top 20.

Graduate student Erica Little, who writes for the Missourian, also earned a top 20 finish in the Multimedia Innovative Journalism Competition.

Hearst Awards will continue to be announced in the coming months.

Updated: April 22, 2024

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