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.
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 earlymorning
driveby 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 themwell, that's almost unheard of."
Stiles, a senior journalism major, remembers the
"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
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
"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."
"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.