The Sunflower at Wichita State University honored for excellence in college journalism

The Sunflower at Wichita State University and former editor in chief Chance Swaim are the 2018 winners of the University of Georgia’s Betty Gage Holland Award for excellence in college journalism.

The Holland Award recognizes campus journalists and their publications for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. The award is presented by the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership at the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and the Student Press Law Center (SPLC).

The independent, student-run newspaper’s coverage during the academic year included investigative stories that examined student housing conflicts of interest, questioned the university’s investigation of a student body president, and dissected enrollment numbers reported by university administrators. In pursuit of these and other stories, Swaim and The Sunflower filed numerous open records requests.

“By looking under the hood, by questioning those assumptions, by crunching their own numbers, these folks did the highest duty of investigative journalism—they held the power accountable,” said Frank LoMonte, senior legal fellow at the SPLC and director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida. “They paid quite a price for doing that. Their funding was threatened, their livelihood was threatened, but they did not let that stop them.”

“It’s a real honor,” said Swaim, after accepting the award during the 23rd annual Management Seminar for College for College News Editors. “I’m hoping people look back at our coverage this year, and how we handled it, to learn new ways to cover things at their schools.”

(l.-rt.) Keith Herndon, Cox Institute director; Stephanie Moreno, MSCNE coordinator; Matt Kelly, current editor in chief of The Sunflower; Chance Swaim, former editor in chief of The Sunflower; Amy DeVault, adviser of The Sunflower; and Frank LoMonte, senior legal fellow at the Student Press Law Center.

Swaim’s detailed research is the biggest asset in his reporting, according to Amy DeVault, adviser of The Sunflower.

“These stories did not land in Chance’s lap. He’s an incredibly good reporter,” she said. “What that means is he does his research, he’s constantly reading.”

DeVault hopes The Sunflower, which operates on an annual budget of under $200,000, will inspire other campus publications of varying staff sizes. “It doesn’t take a lot of money to do good journalism,” she said.

Swaim will receive a $1,000 award and The Sunflower also will receive $1,000 as the sponsor publication.

The annual award honors the late Betty Gage Holland, long-time friend of journalism education at Grady College.

The Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership prepares students and professionals for leadership roles in the news media. It is named for the late James M. Cox Jr., who headed Cox Enterprises and Cox Broadcasting Corporation from 1957 until 1974.

The Student Press Law Center, headquartered in Washington, D.C., provides legal assistance and advocacy in support of student journalists nationwide seeking access to information from schools and colleges. The Center provides free legal training and educational materials for student journalists and their teachers on a wide variety of legal topics.