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Vermont Cynic wins national Diversity Story of the Year award

October 24, 2016

By at least one measure of college news writing—one highly respected, pretty definitive measure—the staff of The Vermont Cynic this year wrote the nation’s best story focused on diversity and social justice.

Associated Collegiate Press—which also awards the Pacemaker, aka the “Pulitzer Prize of college journalism”—on Saturday awarded the Cynic’s examination of the University of Vermont’s racist past with the 2016 “Diversity Story of the Year Award.”

Who didn’t get the award? Well … every other college and university in the nation.

Among the nine finalists receiving runner-up status were some of higher-ed’s top journalism programs.

Runners-up included:

  • University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
  • University of Oregon
  • Ball State
  • Drake
  • The Graduate School of Journalism at City University of New York
  • Pepperdine
  • Northwestern

All came in second place or lower to the University of Vermont, which has no journalism program: just the hard-working staff of The Vermont Cynic, a 3,000-circulation newspaper with a staff of fewer than 100.


Layout editors Eileen O’Connor and Kira Bellis react to the win.

“I’m just extremely proud of all the people who worked on the story,” said Hannah Kearns, the Cynic’s editor-in-chief. “It definitely was a huge team and collaborative effort.

“That was my favorite part, being able to see see a team of talented journalists come together to create something amazing.”

The story focused on Kakewalk, a 73-year UVM tradition in which students performed in blackface. The practice continued into the 1970s, according to the Cynic’s reporting.

“Not a lot of people knew that the KakeWalk even existed at UVM,” Kearns said. “The ability to shine a light on that was really important. That’s what our job is.”

News writer Kelsey Neubauer, who co-wrote the story with fellow reporter Bryan O’Keefe under the supervision of enterprise editor Sarah Olsen, said talking to sources involved in and affected by KakeWalk was an emotional experience.

img_5901Neubauer said that social justice issues are close to her heart, and, before writing this story, she had long debated whether she could do more good as a social justice activist or as a journalist who could bring these issues to light for a wider audience.

In the end, she said, she chose the latter: “This story is what made me want to be a journalist.”

Neubauer and O’Keefe will continue to have an outsized impact on The Cynic. Just last week, Neubauer was elected as the next editor-in-chief, and O’Keefe was chosen as her managing editor.

Both Kearns and Neubauer said that this story helped them understand the value of deep reporting—getting to know their sources through extended conversations and probing questions—and staying sensitive to the fact that the tradition inflicted immense emotional pain on so many people.

Producing this story, Kearns said, “definitely wasn’t a sprint. We treated it as a marathon.”

This is the second year in a row that the Cynic earned national recognition for its reporting. Last year, ACP gave a second-place News Story of the Year award to the Cynic  for its investigation of working conditions at Sodexo, the food service provider for University of Vermont students, faculty and staff.


Story co-writer Kelsey Neubauer returns to the rest of her team after accepting the award for The Cynic.

Neubauer and other Cynic staff members received the award while in Washington, D.C. this weekend for ACP’s National College Media Convention.

Among the other moments of the weekend: seeing talks by heavy-hitters such as Donna Brazile, interim chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee; Bob Woodward, the legendary Washington Post editor; and—by video chat from his exile in Russia—Edward Snowden, the government whistleblower who revealed that the U.S. government was conducting electronic surveillance on Americans on a massive scale.


Remembering a Vermont Cynic layout legend

July 26, 2016
Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 2.24.09 PM

Susan Mitchum Ball, 1943-2016

At the end of the era in which journalists still pasted their stories onto a physical page to be sent to the printer, few non-students were as essential to The Vermont Cynic as Sue Ball.

Ball was a “Cynic legend” who stayed awake into the wee hours of the morning waiting for the University of Vermont’s student journalists to finish their stories and turn in their photos, said Pat Brown, UVM’s director of Student Life.

“Sue would sit behind this wall of a machine that would amaze current students,” Brown said. “It was massive, with a simple keyboard and a driver the size of an old VW bug. She typed and coded stories, then passed along neat columns of student inspirations to inform the campus.”

Brown said he would encourage Ball to head home if students missed their deadlines, but she refused to do it, saying that she couldn’t let the students down.

“Sue was a trooper, hanging out in Billings with her dog Damien, waiting for the ever-tardy, yet intensely driven story. She’d also help students format their resumes and create a poster or two for student organizations.”

Ball died July 8 at the age of 72, according to the Burlington Free Press. She owned the business Bold Face Type & Design and started the Burlington magazine LOOKOUT, which continued until the late 1980s.

Read her obituary here.

Documentary delves into UVMtv’s history, challenges and sense of family

June 8, 2016

The first UVMtv screen flickered into existence in the late 1990s, a prehistoric era in which students lacked the most basic video necessities. There was no Netflix. No YouTube. Video streaming was the stuff of science fiction. The mere act of watching a second-run movie required a perilous journey through snow and ice to Blockbuster Video, where students could pool their money to rent a $3 film, provided they returned it the next day—lest they face dreaded late fees with each passing day.

UVMtv saved the day, delivering a constant stream of nearly new movies to every television in the residence halls. Over time, the students who chose these movies began making their own shows: news, comedies, dating shows and some pretty psychedelic fare, too.

A new UVMtv mini-doc sheds light on the struggles those students have faced in the years since. UVMtv’s current technical director, Carolyn Pedro, produced the 11-minute film after interviewing a decade’s worth of UVMtv members. The result is a trip through those years when UVMtv sought a studio home on the University of Vermont campus—bouncing from Billings Hall to Coolidge Hall to the Davis Center and more—but mostly Pedro tells a story of how students found their college family on both sides of the camera.

Pedro shared what is was like making the documentary:

I wanted to make the video because I saw how much enthusiasm the members have for the club and the hard work that gets put into it. Unfortunately, the club doesn’t get the recognition it deserves and I wanted to highlight those issues with a documentary.

UVMtv technical director Carolyn Pedro (far left), a junior majoring in film and television studies, says she made the documentary to help viewers understand the passion of the organization’s members. Pedro stands with the rest of UVMtv’s 2016-2017 executive board, who are (from left) Mary O’Toole, Callie Mae Bowen, Lilly Dukich and Yuwei Zhu.

UVMtv technical director Carolyn Pedro (far left), a junior majoring in film and television studies, says she made the documentary to help viewers understand the passion of the organization’s members. Pedro stands with the rest of UVMtv’s 2016-2017 executive board, who are (from left) Mary O’Toole, Callie Mae Bowen, Lilly Dukich and Yuwei Zhu.

Ultimately I wanted to represent UVMtv in a way that shows how much passion is devoted to it by current and previous members. I want those who watch it to realize the dedication its members have to the organization and maybe even get some more recognition for the organization.

I learned how strong its community is. In some ways the organization has really impacted everyone who has been involved. In a short few weeks of starting this documentary I received an overwhelming amount of support from previous and current members. Regardless how many conflicts the club has faced the enthusiasm and devotion for the club has always been alive since the beginning. Everyone is so supportive of what the club has and can accomplish.


For UVMtv: New digs, a new channel, a new start

March 8, 2016

Things just keep getting better for UVMtv.

Just before spring break, club leaders found out that they’d need to vacate their studio under Ira Allen Chapel to make way for UVM computer techs, who themselves had been booted from their old space as UVM shuffles a number of offices.

UVMtv Station Manager Melisa Rayvid

UVMtv Station Manager Melisa Rayvid

Packing everything up wasn’t necessarily easy, but UVMtv quickly relocated to a bright new space in the basement of Wright Hall, one of the residence halls on Redstone Campus.

For UVMtv, the relocation comes on the heels of signing a deal with Burlington Telecom to create two channels available to Burlington residents: channel 300 for standard-def reception and channel 313 for high-def.

Anyone with a Burlington Telecom subscription will be able to watch 24 hours a day. The newest shows will air in the evenings, said Melisa Rayvid, UVMtv’s station manager.

“UVMtv is very excited to be back on TV and broadcasting throughout the Burlington area,” Rayvid said. “Burlington Telecom has helped up become a real television station again.”Unknown

For nearly a decade, UVMtv had streamed up to four channels into UVM’s residence halls. However, when the department of residential life yanked cable from the res halls in 2013, UVMtv went web-only. Several shows continue to flourish online, but the cable deal should mean wider viewership, Rayvid said.

“Our entire staff and people within the UVM community cannot wait to see themselves and their friends on TV,” she said.Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 1.43.00 PM

The partnership is a good deal for Burlington Telecom, too, said Abbie Tykocki, the organization’s director of marketing and public relations.

“Burlington Telecom has a lot of off-campus student customers,” Tykocki said. “UVMtv was eager to get back on the air, and BT was excited to be able to help. It’s a really cool way for BT to say thank you to our student customers.

“They support us, and we’re thrilled to help give something back to the community.”

With the switch to the new studio, UVMtv had to take the new channels offline during spring break as UVM re-wired the space, but Rayvid said channels 300 and 313 will be back on the air next week—right after UVM’s spring break.



The Cynic touts its top stories of the year

January 6, 2016
Burlington station WCAX interviewed Cynic journalists about their top news stories in 2015.

Burlington station WCAX interviewed Cynic journalists about their top news stories in 2015.

Burlington, Vermont, TV station WCAX recently interviewed the new Vermont Cynic leadership team—editor-in-chief Hannah Kearns and managing editor Jacob Holzman—about the Cynic’s top stories of 2015.

This local news coverage comes at the end of an exciting year for the Cynic. In October, Associated Collegiate Press recognized a Cynic investigation into working conditions at University of Vermont dining areas as the second-best college newspaper story in the country.

“There is an immense amount of value in thorough, long-term digging and investigative journalism,” said Holzman, who led the investigative team that produced the award-winning story. “From what we’ve heard from the employees we spoke with during the initial investigation, employees are now better off because of these changes.”

Stories featured by WCAX include an enterprise story about a UVM employee who has accused the university of paying her less than her male counterparts. That story, written by reporter Kelsey Neubauer, received local media attention shortly after it was published in December.


R.I.P. Tuna

December 11, 2015
R.I.P. Tuna

Dr. Alfred Snider, aka Tuna

Dr. Alfred Snider, whom most of us at WRUV-FM knew better as Tuna, passed away early today.

Snider served as WRUV adviser from 1986 to 2000, and he was a legend of a man, both in the station and in the world of UVM debate. If you want to get a sense of how important he was to so many people, you can already find a hundred expressions of love and remorse on national debate forums and on Facebook.

The National Speech & Debate Association posted this today: “It is impossible to estimate the number of people who have learned from Dr. Snider as a coach, teacher, or colleague, either in person or from one of his many books, podcasts, television appearances, radio shows, and websites. A lifelong learner and teacher, Dr. Snider was also one of the community’s greatest servants.”

Dr. Snider lives on as Dr. Tuna. You can listen to an archived show from 1984—the one year anniversary of his first time on WRUV—or this show in which he sat in on the radio program Trenchtown Rock, which he says “had been a foundation of the local reggae scene in every sense of the word.”

About the 1984 show, Tuna wrote: “After one year on the radio I did a little celebration. I played some stuff from the past and used my penchant for self-indulgence to the max. Lots of classic reggae music. Princess Sensee is there, Blue Riddim Band plays “Nancy Reagan,” and a lot more little bits of memory and music.”

He concluded: “Enjoy. This was a long time ago.”

But listen to it today, and you hear the great DJ who meant so much to so many.

Vermont Cynic named Story of the Year finalist

September 4, 2015

Congratulations to The Vermont Cynic for being named a finalist this week in the Associated Collegiate Press Story of the Year competition.

Just 10 college newspapers made the list. Other finalists include The Temple News at Temple University in Philadelphia and Depaulia at DePaul University in Chicago. The winner will be announced in October at the National College Media Convention in Austin.

Sodexo investigation named national story finalist

ACP judges recognized the Cynic enterprise team for its investigation of working conditions at Sodexo, which provides food service to University of Vermont students, faculty and staff.

In the award announcement, ACP named  the entire enterprise team, which focuses its energy on in-depth stories. They were:

  • Enterprise editor Jacob Holzman
  • Enterprise reporter Sarah Olsen
  • Videographer & photographer Cole Wangsness
  • Assistant news editor JP Reidel
  • Reporter Taylor Feuss, who had returned to reporting after leaving her position as Cynic managing editor at the end of 2014.

The entire project was overseen by Cynic editor-in-chief Cory Dawson and Cynic managing editor Stu Laperle.

After learning of the story’s recognition on Friday, Dawson sent an email to the enterprise team reading: “This is amazing, congratulations to you all!”

The enterprise section came into being in late 2014, with Holzman taking the lead and supported by then-editor-in-chief Natalie Williams. Other stories have included an investigation into a Burlington, Vermont, political controversy with a former UVM student leader at its center, and a look at an obscure state law that makes UVM’s out-of-state tuition the fourth highest in the country. 

In the week since the Fall 2015 semester started, the enterprise team has started producing a series of stories looking into the past of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders as he mounts his presidential run.

Nomination for this award is the highest-level honor that the Cynic staff received the Pacemaker—considered the Pulitzer of college journalism—for its newspaper in 2011 and its website in 2012.

As word of the Cynic’s finalist status spread this afternoon, Dawson took to Facebook to praise the Cynic staff.

The story, he wrote, “was put together by some of the most talented student journalists I’ve had the pleasure of working with.

“You have made positive change through your reporting and now you’re getting some much deserved recognition. Congrats!”

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