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Society of Professional Journalists honors students’ stories

The Mark of Excellence Awards recognize compelling work in news, sports and in-depth reporting

shark dive

Diana Crandall did a dive with great white sharks during her summer internship in South Africa. (Photo/Rebecca Gibian)

From the endangered culture of Costa Rica’s “hidden people” to the thriving economy of online sex work, stories told by student journalists at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism are finding an audience — and recognition from the Society of Professional Journalists.

The 2015 Mark of Excellence Awards honored work by USC Annenberg students in 11 categories across platforms spanning news and sports, in-depth reporting and breaking news. The pieces, largely produced in the new Julie Chen/Leslie Moonves and CBS Media Center of Wallis Annenberg Hall, are recognized as winners and finalists among a field of collegiate journalism competitors from California, Arizona, Hawaii and Nevada (SPJ Region 11).

“The compelling, multiplatform and award-winning work produced by our students and student fellows is a window into the range of the opportunities available to student journalists here at USC Annenberg,” said Willow Bay, director of the School of Journalism.

Radio reporting

Martha Daniel, a print and broadcast journalism major, won the radio in-depth reporting category with a piece that explores the changing definition of sex work. As the internet has changed the way we shop, communicate and make friends — it also has changed how we have sex, she wrote in the multimedia story titled “Online Sex Market Allowing More People to Work From Home.”

The online sex marketplace is bustling, a development that tells a larger story about the economy, opportunity and how people are finding new ways of making a living, Daniel said. The story was born in Professor Willa Seidenberg’s public radio reporting class as an assignment given to explore the changing nature of work.

Daniel, who also is executive editor of, found further inspiration by collaborating with her fellow student journalists in the Media Center.

“Because of the facilities we have, I was always working on it in the Media Center, workshopping it with my peers who weren’t even in my class,” Daniel said. “They were my biggest asset in completing it.”

This just in …

Alumnae Diana Crandall and Rebecca Gibian collaborated in the center’s workspace to write the winning SPJ breaking news reporting piece “Costa Rica: Bribri Culture Under Threat.” The story explores how technology is threatening the indigenous culture, ethnicity and religion of Bribri by ushering in the outside world.

Crandall also took the SPJ non-fiction magazine article prize for her investigation of South Africa’s shark-cage diving industry.

In “Making a Killing: An Investigation of South Africa’s Shark Industry,” Crandall explored the practice of “chumming,” which draws sharks to divers’ cages for entertainment — and can make them more dangerous to humans along shorelines. She also revealed numbers showing how great white sharks, although officially protected, are increasingly falling prey as a by-catch of commercial fishing.

She wrote the piece as a cover story for The Big Issue South Africa while working as an intern last summer. The internship was the culmination of her work in the nine-month M.S. Journalism program. Besides Costa Rica and South Africa, Crandall also reported from Indonesia for a previous journalism course.

In a feature on USC Annenberg’s news pages last year, she talked about the No. 1 takeaway from her instruction and practice at USC.

“I learned how to tell a story,” she said. “Everybody has a story — it doesn’t matter where in the world you are. If you don’t know how to tell it, you can’t do justice for the people who need their stories told.”

Two other winners were Kay Angrum for in-depth television reporting (“Alcoholism at USC: Alcohol Abuse on Campus”) and Nathaniel Haas for online opinion and commentary (“The Cost of Sexual Assault at USC”).

Winners will be recognized at the Excellence in Journalism 2016 event to be held in New Orleans this fall.

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