A Spirit that is Not Afraid

The Auburn Plainsman carries on tradition of excellence with 20th Pacemaker Award

Published: November 06, 2017
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The tradition of excellence for The Auburn Plainsman student newspaper continued this year as the newspaper was awarded its 20th national Pacemaker Award in late October at the Associated Press/College Media Association National College Media Convention in Dallas.

The Plainsman has received 20 national print Pacemakers, two national Online Pacemakers and a number of Regional Pacemakers, and was recently named to the Pacemaker Hall of Fame. At the convention, the publication was awarded as one of the best four-year, non-daily collegiate newspapers for the 2016-17 year.

Embodying the Auburn’s creed, the staff pursues truthful journalism through continuous hard work.

Established in 1893, The Plainsman’s motto, "A Spirit that is Not Afraid,” drives the staff to fearlessly give voices to the voiceless and track the controversial stories that are difficult to tell. According to Chip Brownlee, The Plainsman’s editor-in-chief, the paper strives to be a consistent source of accurate and informative news for the Auburn community.

"There is something about walking into a newsroom, knowing the name has withstood the test of time and still remains respected today,” said Lily Jackson, managing editor. "There is a deep-seated pride that comes with being an editor, writer or photographer for the most highly decorated college newspaper in the country. Carrying a legacy of fair, balanced and quality journalism is not an option to our editors, it's just what we do.”

Alec Harvey, editorial advisor for Auburn Student Media Group, attended the convention with Brownlee, Jackson and the standards editor Jessica Ballard. The 2017-18 editors accepted the award on behalf of Corey Williams, 2016-17 editor-in-chief, and Dakota Sumpter, 2016-17 managing editor. The National Pacemaker Awards are awards for excellence in American student journalism, generally considered to be the highest national honors in their field.

"It's part of the tradition at The Auburn Plainsman to strive to be as professional, innovative and informative as possible, and receiving college journalism's highest award this year connects us back to that tradition,” Brownlee said. "A lot of the credit for this award goes to Corey Williams, last year's editor in chief. She really set a high bar for all of us to work toward.”

The staff initially believed they did not win an award because they thought the winners would be called in alphabetical order, which would place The Auburn Plainsman first. Once called, the editors flew out of their seats in excitement.

"I’m a pretty giggly person and my face hurt after a while from smiling like a hyena for too long,” Jackson said. "I love The Auburn Plainsman and I love being a journalist. Being recognized for both mean the world to me and the rest of the staff.”

The multiday media convention included networking opportunities, informative panel discussions, hands-on tutorials and access to media professionals. Jackson said that after the Plainsman’s recent website and print redesign, it was great to hear that the paper was on the right track in the world of journalism. The staff was able to meet with various professional mentors and receive advice on how to better serve the digital public.

Induction into the Pacemaker Hall of Fame was yet another Plainsman success during the convention that highlighted its tradition of journalistic excellence.

"We can't take much of the credit for being inducted into the Hall of Fame,” Brownlee said. "We were afforded that honor because of the hard work and time put in by Plainsman staffs over the years, dating back to our first Pacemaker decades ago.”

During the 2016-17 year, The Plainsman staff reported several controversial and ground-breaking stories in the Auburn Community, including the Toomer’s fire, the selection of a new university president and campus visits from Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopolous.

"My favorite issues were probably the one after the Toomer's fire and the one after Richard Spencer's visit to campus,” said Williams, the editor-in-chief at the time. "The bond within the Auburn community is so strong, especially when times are tough. The Auburn spirit is hard to define and we did our best to capture that unique feeling in those issues.”

The publication and live coverage of the immigration ban protests on campus and the peace rally during Richard Spencer’s presentation garnered national attention for The Plainsman. Jackson, lifestyle editor at the time, said that the "all hands on deck” stories were fearlessly directed by Williams, resulting in recognition of the highest caliber.

The Auburn Plainsman staff truly becomes a family during their time working for the paper. Jackson, the current managing editor, began as an intrigue writer her freshman year before transitioning through community reporting and lifestyle editing positions. Brownlee has been working for The Plainsman for three years, serving as a community news writer and reporter, news editor and community news editor. He was selected as editor-in-chief in May 2017.

"I have never seen a group of students work as hard as The Plainsman staff,” Jackson said. "I remember when I first started getting more involved, there wasn't a day or time when you walked into the office and found it empty. This job can consume every waking moment of your day and it is addicting.”

Williams, the editor-in-chief of the 2016-17 award-winning paper, was also on staff when The Plainsman won its last national Pacemaker Award for the 2013-14 year. As a freshman, she began as a campus writer before becoming a campus reporter, the campus editor and then the editor-in-chief.

"The 2013-14 editor-in-chief, Kelsey Davis, is a great journalist and taught me so much in such a short time,” Williams said. "The campus editor at the time, Becky Hardy, was my first boss in the journalism industry and is still one of my closest friends.”

The convention also awarded other members of The Plainsman’s previous staff. Last year’s enterprise editor Kris Martins was recognized for her multimedia reporting and Dakota Sumpter was recognized for his photography.

"Winning the Pacemaker really just gives us the confidence that we are still on the right track in this ever-changing world of journalism,” Harvey said. "It’s not easy being a journalist, covering stories sometimes that others don’t want covered, but The Plainsman does it, and the staff is not afraid to do it. That leads to top-notch journalism, and that, in turn, leads to the Pacemaker.”

Though technically a student paper, The Plainsman maintains higher standards than typical student journalism. The paper actively competes with professional local and state news organizations, and more often than not, they win—beating the competition to stories and producing pieces that are more informative and more in-depth. Maintaining the tradition and reputation of superiority takes hard work that clearly pays off.

"The Plainsman, in my opinion, will always be a beacon of light shining from our southern corner,” Jackson said. "The mentality and dedication to the publication have not wavered from staff to staff since 1893 and I don't believe it will. The Plainsman is a spirit that is not afraid. Whether we win an award every year or never win another again, The Auburn Plainsman will continue to strive for fair and balanced reporting.”