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College of Mass Communications and Information Studies Home Page
Alumni Award Winners

October 22, 2009

Alumni honored at awards dinner

The School of Journalism and Mass Communications annual Alumni Awards Dinner celebrated three distinguished alumni and two outstanding young alumnae and recognized an associate professor for her service. Family, friends and faculty gathered  to honor these industry leaders on Oct. 22 at the Capital City Club in Columbia.

Dr. Brad Hamm, dean of the Indiana University School of Journalism; Benjy Hamm, editorial director of Landmark Community Newspapers; and Mari Maseng Will, communications strategist, are this year’s Distinguished Alumni Award recipients.

Mary Hartney, director of audience engagement at The Baltimore Sun, and Pushpa Gopalan, vice president of Leo Burnett USA, are the Outstanding Young Alumnae of 2009. Gopalan was unable to attend the dinner. Read more about Gopalan>

Associate Professor Bonnie Drewniany received our Excellence in Service award.

Shared below are excerpts of their comments. Click on each image to read more about each of them and to watch video of each person's entire comments.

Benjy Hamm

Benjy HammIt's still fun
I always thought I wanted to be a sports broadcaster, but as I got into the newspaper business, I really liked it and I thought, "I will stay in this as long as it is fun." And it still is. ...

Despite what you may hear, the appeal of newspapers is still quite strong. ... It is not fading away. ...

I think that's what makes journalism a special calling. We have the opportunity to inform, to enlighten, to awaken, and to inspire. ... As reporters and editors, we are paid to meet interesting people, learn new things, observe historic events and cover the births and deaths and life of a community — and the only thing that's asked of us in return is that we tell others what we have observed, what we heard and what we learned. What a terrific job. What a terrific thing we get to do every day.

Enlighten, inspire, awaken
I would say the same thing, though, about colleges and professors: enlighten, inspire, awaken every day. Every day, it goes on. That's why I am grateful to this journalism school and the people who are here. ... I benefited from the special attention I received here. ...

I have hired a number of people from the School ... some of the top graduates, Chris Winston, Matt Pruitt, Josh Penrod, Brad Walters ... and I did that with help from Henry Price, Pat McNeely, Ken Campbell and Doug Fisher and many others in this room.

Brad Hamm

Brad HammA magical opportunity
Twenty years ago this fall, I left Columbia. I came to Columbia as a newspaper person and I expected to leave as a newspaper person. One of the amazing things about universities is that you are able to bring together people and ideas and opportunities. What I discovered in the time here was an opportunity to do something else, which was to teach. ...

What I am left with is that South Carolina and this school doesn't necessarily know what every person coming in wants to do. But for whatever reason, in my opinion, our experience here was magical, and it created in us not an ability to do one thing, but an ability to do all that we dreamed of. It was something that maybe at that time we weren't even aware of.

In talking to other alumni
I learned early on that they often never ask about classes. They often never ask about certain things. They always want to know about the people. When I think of South Carolina and as I look at the tables, these are the people I am interested in. These are the people I remember. These are the people that I hear about and I try to follow. ...

I think journalism is essential. I am quite optimistic about it because when I studied history here I learned of a time when newspaper circulation was plummeting, advertising was walking away, people were being laid off. And it was called the 1930s. What I learned was that every 20 years there is some revolution in journalism, and sometimes we forget that when the new revolution comes along. ...

There are so many remarkable people here tonight, and some who are not, but who changed our lives. We'll never forget that. And I think that's what makes this school special.

Mari Maseng Will

Mari WillI was never intimidated
I will always be grateful to Henry Price, Perry Ashley and Jim McElveen — these people who inspired me — and in Henry's case, scared me to death. ... Henry and others made sure that I was able enough and tough enough — I was never intimidated by a city editor after experiencing Henry — tough enough and honorable enough to be a journalist, what I think is pretty much the highest calling.

Advice to students
I encourage them to train themselves in the way that I was trained by Henry and others to be a writer, because if you are a writer and a disciplined writer, there's almost nothing you can't do in America today. ...

I also encourage them not to worry about what's happening in journalism today because if you actually are a journalist, there is always going to be a place for you.

What reporters must do, always, to ensure the freedoms that we all enjoy is to just give them the facts. ...

So in this case, when I talk to young people, I say it's not the changes that we have to be afraid of in journalism. It's not the different media that we are going to be writing in. What is important now for us to address is the splintering of the media, the media that is right or left or has an opinion, the transition from being a reporter to being an entertainer. To me, that's the most threatening thing that's happening in journalism today. If we just remember what Jack Nelson said about presenting the facts, if we remember what I was taught by Henry Price and others at the USC School of Journalism, we can heal the splintering that's going on, and we can maintain the most important freedom that I think is here, the freedom of speech that enables the freedom of thought.

Mary Hartney

The people
Mary HartneyI remember often interrupting Ernie Wiggins in his office ... Wiggins helped me focus my thesis and kept me on track to graduation. ... I remember also making frantic calls to Eric Collins from the Gamecock offices. ... He always, no matter the hour or the topic, took it in stride. ... And Doug Fisher — when I came to copyediting class I had to leave the chip on my shoulder at the door because he spares no one. ... I can still hear his voice saying in my head, "I'm going to ding you for that." ...

The core values
These are the values I learned in the halls of the J-school: to challenge the conventional wisdom, the knowledge that the law is typically on the journalists' side and to always keep readers in mind. I also got a fundamental grounding in the First Amendment ... They are a set of values I turn to often, and a set of values that I rely on especially now in a turbulent industry.

A new industry trend
There's a disturbing trend in the industry. ... It's gaining ground as circulation drops: It's the idea to start charging users for general interest newspaper Web sites. ...

There are two key issues that tell me that charging for newspaper Web sites is dangerous ground. ... The first is that putting up walls goes against the spirit of the Web. ...

The second reason, though, that I think charging for content is a dangerous one really ties into why we are here tonight. I think there's a fundamental First Amendment issue in walling off content. The work that journalists do, the most crucial, most important work — the watchdog coverage, shining the light in the dark corners, afflicting the comfortable, comforting the afflicted— it means nothing, if no one reads it. ...

Too often we publish a story and rush right off to the next one. ... Our work really is meaningful when someone reads a story, sees the photo and actually acts on it. ... We can report and write and report and write and shoot photos and videos and post them, but they won't mean anything if they are in a vacuum, and I believe a paid site is a vacuum with a limited reach. Information is power, but information that anyone can access is the most powerful. This core belief that knowledge should be shared and shared freely and widely really developed from the relationships I had here with professors and with my friends at USC.

Bonnie DrewnianyBonnie Drewniany

Congratulations to everyone who has won tonight. You are the reason we are here.

Jerry Jewler is one of the reasons I came. He and Belle have been so gracious. I won't bore you to tears with all the Woody Allen Thanksgivings we have served together. ...

But Jerry is an extraordinary individual. He is one of the nation's distinguished advertising educators from AAF, as is Lee Wenthe, who came from Edisto to be here tonight. I was very touched when Karen Mallia blew the surprise by telling me she had to clean her house. ...

Why I came to South Carolina is because service is in the DNA. Not every university has service as an integral part of what it's about. I am very, very grateful.

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