The power of the pen

Matt Stiles' touching story about a drive-by shooting earned him a Texas Associated Press Managing Editors award and a Katie from the Dallas Press Club-unprecedented honors for a student competing against professionals.

Matt Stiles

Running short of full-time staff, the metro editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times dispatched summer intern Matt Stiles to pick up whatever information he could on an early—morning drive—by gang shooting that left a young man, believed to be an unintended victim, dead in front of his house.

The editor wasn't sure what to expect.

But what she received was a moving news feature that eventually won a Texas Associated Press Managing Editors award and a Katie from the Press Club of Dallas.

"These are major awards and are usually won by journalists with years of professional experience. Matt's awards show that he can hold his own as a news reporter against the best news reporters in the field. We knew that already," said Lloyd Goodman, director of UTA Student Publications. "It tickles me to see other people recognize his talent, too. Winning one of these awards while still in college is a rare honor. Winning both of them—well, that's almost unheard of."

Stiles, a senior journalism major, remembers the story well.

"When I went to the victim's house the next morning, I was surprised to find his mother there, still obviously grieving," said Stiles, a former editor at The Shorthorn, UTA's student newspaper.
The story unfolded. The shots woke the mother. She ran to the front yard. Held her son as he lay dying. Such tragedy for merely being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

She told Stiles about her never-to-be-realized ambitions for her 20-year-old son. She wept. "It was an emotional interview," said Stiles. Then, as journalists must, he wrote the story.

"I think it was therapeutic for her to tell the story and talk about her devastation, to see it in print," he said. "That's what you try to do as a journalist. You want to know about people, in this case a person lost to us."

The AP and Katie commendations that Stiles received weren't his first writing awards-and likely won't be his last. Fact is, for the last three decades The Shorthorn has been one of the most consistently recognized university newspapers in the country. Its office walls abound with honors for photography, layout and design, and ad production, as well as for writing and editing.

Managing editor Michael Currie was recently named National Student Designer of the Year. Photographer Matt Slocum routinely collects accolades. Production manager Missy Fowkes' ad designs are consistent award winners.

The trick to winning awards, Goodman believes, is not to seek them as goals in themselves. "Concentrate on accuracy, fairness and completeness," he said. "The awards then take care of themselves."

Too, Goodman believes that the structure of the operation allows students to specialize, with resultant skill sharpening.
"What we do here different from other models is that we will give any student a chance to excel," he said. "It's up to the students whether they take advantage of the opportunity. Many clearly do."

Stiles has.

"The newsroom just feels like a newspaper. I learned more than I ever expected to learn," he said.

Then he adds with a laugh, "I stayed longer than I ever expected to stay. I owe an enormous debt to The Shorthorn."

And The Shorthorn to him.


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