SPJ Detroit announces Journalist & Young Journalist of the Year, Lifetime Achievement Awards & scholarship winners

The Detroit chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists has named the recipients of many of its top awards – Lifetime Achievement, Journalist of the Year, Young Journalist of the Year and the Larry Laurain scholarships — as part of the 2020 Excellence in Journalism celebrations.

Three of the region’s prominent journalists – David Ashenfelter, Mary Kramer and Vickie Thomas – will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

The chapter’s Journalist of the Year is Robert Snell, a reporter at The Detroit News.

Young Journalist of the Year awards will go to Violet Ikonomova of Deadline Detroit and Riley Beggin of Bridge Magazine. In addition, four area college students will share $5500 in scholarships.

The awards were announced April 13, in anticipation of final details on how the chapter will hold its 2020 Excellence in Journalism banquet. The banquet, originally scheduled for May 7, was postponed until further clarification of the direction of the nation’s battle against the COVID-19 epidemic.

“We look forward to having an amazing gathering of the region’s journalists to honor these outstanding individuals and the award-winning work that was created by our media colleagues last year,” said Beth Konrad, the Detroit chapter president and a professor of practice at Wayne State University.

“The Excellence in Journalism banquet is a celebration of the best multimedia reporting by Detroit area journalists,” she added.

The winners by award category are:

Lifetime Achievement (selected by the SPJ Detroit board of directors)

  • David Ashenfelter – Public Information Officer – U.S. District Court, Detroit.

Ashenfelter, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, has a career that spanned stints at the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News, Bridge Magazine, Deadline Detroit, Gongwer News Service, Reuters and the Kokomo (Ind.) Morning Times. The Ohio native was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 2002.

  • Mary Kramer – Vice President & Group Publisher – Crain Communications Inc.  

Kramer, a seasoned reporter and newsroom manager, held positions at the Kalamazoo Gazette, Grand Rapids Press, Ann Arbor News, Greenwich (Conn.) Time, and Buffalo (N.Y.) Courier-Express before joining Crain Communications. Active in Detroit’s civic community, she was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame in 2017.

  • Vickie Thomas – City and Beat reporter — WWJ Newsradio 950.

Thomas, an award-winning radio broadcaster, has spent her career covering breaking news in metropolitan Detroit. She is credited with spearheading the 2018 convention of the National Association of Black Journalists in Detroit, and is active in the local chapter. Raised in Highland Park, she was inducted into the Michigan Journalism Hall of Fame.

Journalist of the Year (selected by a jury of veteran journalists and educators)

  • Robert Snell – Multimedia reporter – The Detroit News
    • Judge comments: “‘Driven by Greed’ is a detailed look at the UAW’s corruption scandal. One University of Michigan professor calls it ‘an ugly story.’ He’s right: But (Snell) nailed it, leading coverage nationally of a scandal that has rocked the union and the auto industry. Each of the stories in the entry attest to how Snell has worked sources to get ahead of the curve on the story with loads of detail. His work led to resignations of top UAW officials and prompted structural changes aimed at protecting UAW members. It’s classic investigative journalism.”

Young Journalist of the Year (selected by a jury of veteran journalists and educators)

  • Violet Ikonomova, Deadline Detroit
    • Judge comments:“Her entire package revealed a young journalist who digs for facts and as her nomination letter said who takes complex subjects and writes about them in a way that makes them easily understood.”
  • Riley Beggin, Bridge Magazine
    • Judge comments:“Riley’s environmental project was excellent. Strong writing. ‘Library books for inmates’ shows smart enterprise reporting.  Her versatility puts her at the top of a lot of very strong candidates.”

The Larry Laurain Scholarship (selected by the SPJ Detroit board of directors)

  • Sylvia Jarrus, Michigan State University ($2500)
  • Jessica Taylor, Wayne State University ($1500)
  • Zoe Jackson, Western Michigan University ($1000)
  • Wolfgang Ruth, Michigan State University ($500)

“This was another incredible year of entries in the chapter’s Excellence in Journalism completion for identifying the best work produced in 2019,” Konrad said. The names of the nearly 200 finalists will be released with details of the timing and location of the banquet, she added.

SPJ Detroit asks that you for future updates on our website: www.spjdetroit.org.

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