Student's standout performance highlights Penn State's Hearst Program success

June 08, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State student Alison Kuznitz had never been to San Francisco, let alone the West Coast, until June 2. Her first visit was a success and she didn’t come home empty handed — claiming third place and a $5,000 scholarship in the 2018 individual national writing championship, the highlight of the William Randolph Hearst Foundation’s Journalism Awards Program.

Kuznitz, a rising senior majoring in journalism and marketing, is Penn State’s fifth top-three finisher in the last five years, and the first since Erin McCarthy placed third in 2016. Kuznitz was one of eight writing finalists to compete for the national championship during the 58th annual competition in San Francisco.

Kuznitz’s performance punctuated a standout year for Penn State as students from the Donald P. Bellisario College of Communications finished third overall in the yearlong program. Often referred to as “the Pulitzers of college journalism,” the Hearst Journalism Awards Program received 1,314 entries this year in four categories: multimedia, photojournalism, radio and television, and writing.

Penn State’s third-place performance included a second-place finish in the writing category, and top-10 finishes in photojournalism (fifth), multimedia (sixth), and radio and television (eighth).

“I just can’t say enough about our student journalists in all the categories,” said Russ Eshleman, head of the Department of Journalism. “They worked conscientiously all year on their stories and photos, and their efforts paid off.”

During the past decade, Penn State has claimed three overall national championships and posted the best average finish of any university in the Northeast or the Big Ten Conference in the Hearst Program.

“We are proud of our continued success in this prestigious competition,” said Dean Marie Hardin. “It demonstrates the high quality of our journalism program, especially our emphasis on strong writing.”

Individually, Kuznitz also upheld a tradition of success. Penn State has produced numerous individual national championship qualifiers and three individual national writing champions (Anna Orso, 2014; Andrew McGill, 2010; and Halle Stockton, 2007) since 2007.

“I was absolutely thrilled that I placed third. The goal was to do my best work, and I was really satisfied with the work I produced,” said Kuznitz. “I was just very excited that I could represent Penn State to this capacity and be successful in my trip out here to San Francisco.”

The Trumbull, Connecticut, native and Schreyer Honors Scholar completed three stories during the competition, which began the morning of June 3 with the final deadline at 5:30 p.m. June 5. Two of the stories, a personality profile and a news story from an interview, went hand-in-hand and were centered around John Burris, a prominent civil rights attorney in the Bay Area.

That was a welcome coincidence for Kuznitz, who qualified for the competition in part by writing a personality profile about Tom Kline, a prominent Philadelphia lawyer who represents Jim and Evelyn Piazza in their case against the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State involving the hazing death of their son.

“I kind of knew I needed to hit what does he act like in a courtroom? What are some of his trial skills? What are some of his major cases?" she said.

The contestants were also given an on-the-spot story, which focused the changing art scene in the Bay Area. For that, she came across NIMBY, a warehouse that serves as a shared art space. She visited the warehouse, met with the founder and talked with some of the artists.

“They were slapped with a high rental increase, a 300-percent rent increase,” said Kuznitz. “That’s stemming just from the city of Oakland and California because they legalized marijuana. So, the cannabis industry is moving in and that’s driving up rent prices because the artists aren’t really making money for the landlords.”

There were definitely challenges along the way. Kuznitz had initially planned on writing about a music festival in the area. When she got there, though, it didn’t work out the way she had planned. So, she went back to her room and regrouped before she found out about NIMBY.

“I think the spot news probably went back to my time in the international reporting class,” said Kuznitz. “Obviously, we’re still in the United States, but parachuting into a place I really haven’t been before and just trying to get my bearings very quickly, I think that was kind of just the most unnerving.”

During her free time after the competition had concluded, Kuznitz and her roommate visited the famous Lombard Street and took a boat tour around the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz Island.

Kuznitz, who starts a summer internship with the Hartford Courant on June 11, also had the opportunity to meet and network with a variety of talented student journalists from all around the country.  

“It was just really cool to see these top programs all come together in such a prestigious atmosphere,” said Kuznitz.

Last Updated June 08, 2018