JEA names California’s Anushka De as 2022 Journalist of the Year
By Joe Humphrey, MJE, Journalist of the Year coordinator
Curiosity and courage propelled California’s Anushka De to earn the 2022 JEA Journalist of the Year award, announced today in Los Angeles. De is an editor of the El Estoque newsmagazine at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino.
De’s winning portfolio included a package about immigrants adjusting to life in the San Francisco Bay area, columns that challenged sex education policies, a series of stories about feminism and writing about activism in a community known for being vocal.
“What inspires me about Anuska’s reporting,” said adviser Julia Satterthwaite, MJE, “is that she covers issues like immigration, feminism and Black Lives Matter not just because they are hot-button issues, but because she wants to better understand the situations, hear from multiple perspectives and attempt to make a positive impact.”
JEA juror Jack Kennedy, MJE, said De’s portfolio turned him into a “70-plus year old fan boy.”
“I read every word in your portfolio and was never disappointed,” said Kennedy, a retired Colorado adviser. “I often found myself marveling over the sophistication not only of your prose but of your insights into a wide range of issues and simple human conditions and situations. Your commitment to covering all aspects of life in the school community was clear and compelling.”
“Reading through your letters of recommendation and personal essay give me hope,” award juror Jessica Hunziker, MJE, of Colorado, said. “The future of journalism deserves people who are brave – like you. I am so impressed with the diversity of coverage throughout the portfolio. You have done an exemplary job of giving a voice to the voiceless.”
Her award entry included recommendation letters from two of her fellow editors. Co-editor Jayanti Jha said of being “inspired daily by her tenacity.” Sports editor Nika Zamani, a friend since sixth grade PE class, called De “an inspiring leader and a compassionate friend with the uncanny ability to bring joy to everything she does.”
In her personal narrative, De chronicled her journalism history, which started with having to confront major fears.
“I didn’t know how to write a lede, how to ask someone for an interview, how to take photos following the rule of thirds or what a beat story was,” she wrote. “By the end of the period, I sorely regretted ever applying for journalism. By the third day of school, I was sure I’d fail the class. By the second week, I was positive I would quit.”
“So,” she said, “I did everything except that.”
Satterthwaite said De shines as a leader of the nationally recognized El Estoque because “she carries the weight of the responsibility to continue the tradition of excellence so well,” she said. “Not only is Anushka an incredible writer and communicator, she’s also an enthusiastic and collaborative leader, does not shy away from challenges and has shown courage in her approach to changing the world for the better.”
De is the seventh California student to win the “JOY,” tying the Golden State with Texas for the most winners since the award was created in 1984. The honor includes a $3,000 scholarship named for Sister Rita Jeanne Abicht, JEA’s longtime treasurer.
De plans to remain in the Bay area and attend Stanford University. She wants to study communications, political science and computer science.
“I hope to use whatever platform I have to uplift women around the globe,” De said.
JEA honors runners-up from North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Oregon
From an incredibly competitive field of entries, judges also selected four runners-up, who each will receive $1,000 scholarships.
Caroline Chen, North Carolina
Adviser Neal Morgan credits student Caroline Chen of East Chapel Hill High School for fundamentally changing what he thought was possible for a high school journalist.
“I am a passionate adviser who has always believed what we do matters, but until this year, I had no idea that a high school student could create journalism that shaped the larger community,” he said in her nomination letter. “At this point, it is almost like Caroline is an influential local reporter who happens to go to high school.”
Morgan cited a pair of influential stories by Chen, an opinion piece on NIMBYism (“not in my back yard” attitudes) in housing and urban development and a meticulously researched piece on North Carolina’s state education budget.
“She has shown an ability to use her writing and passion for equity issues like housing and education to make those seemingly complex and nuanced subjects far more accessible to her peers,” Morgan said.
Contest juror Ava Butzu of Michigan lauded Chen for tackling these tough topics and for standing up to critics who questioned her reporting.
“Your fact-checking … and dealing with their false and intimidating allegations of you and your work made me applaud you from start to finish,” Butzu said. “And your writing sparkles. You find compelling facts and statistics and package them in the same way that parents try to ‘hide veggies’ in their kids’ food.”
Chen, who plans to study public policy in college, found her way there through journalism when she decided to make room in her schedule to join The ECHO.
“It has built my curiosity, civic engagement, political presence and initiative to step outside of the box,” she wrote in her personal narrative. “Unlike the A, B, C or D solutions I excelled at before, the answers I hound now don’t even exist until I seek them out. In my lifelong quest for answers, I know the path ahead will not be easy. The greater my impact, the greater the opposition will be — but not only am I unafraid, I look forward to it all.”
Anuj Khemka, Virginia
From riding his bicycle to Saturday work sessions to leading a team of students tackling a hugely important reporting project, Anuj Khemka has set himself apart with ambition, writes adviser Erinn Harris, MJE, of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria.
“As an online editor-in-chief this year, Anuj has helped revolutionize our website,” she said. “In the past, the website has been seen as secondary to the print issue, but now, people are beginning to realize that we are more than just a print magazine with a supplemental website.”
In his personal narrative, Khemka wrote about a table in the middle of the TJ newsroom, where he has conducted interviews throughout his journalism career.
“I greeted them, requested permission to record, and then, magic. Within that one small space spilled out fascinating stories,” he wrote. “The trials and tribulations of two student-athletes to get back on the field after suffering serious injuries. A wrestler’s path to domination at the district and state level. The pain that members of the varsity lacrosse team felt after falling just short of a championship.”
Contest juror Mitch Ziegler, CJE, of California praised the quality of his interviews.
“You are a terrific reporter who is particularly excellent at synthesizing multiple perspectives in your stories,” Ziegler said.
Beyond campus, Khemka has written for multiple publications in Northern Virginia and the Arlington Historical Society, for whom he helped “put faces on one of the most diverse ZIP code areas in the world,” with features about long-gone restaurants in Little Saigon, overlooked enclaves of Mongolian immigrants and more.
“Though I struggled to overcome language barriers, I managed to absorb tales of families left behind and tales of better opportunities,” Khemka wrote. “Until then, I had seen Columbia Pike as just another street, unaware of the vibrant stories of people and establishments bursting alongside it.”
The secret to Khemka’s success, Harris said, is his conversational interview style.
“Listening in on Anuj’s interviews has been one of my favorite parts of teaching these last three years,” Harris said. “I think my other students are sick of me saying they should watch Anuj interview people, but they really should.”
Melissa Liu, Georgia
At Northview High School in Johns Creek, a suburb of Atlanta, Melissa Liu stood out for teaching fellow staff members to become better journalists.
“When confronted with a lack of staffers with design experience, Ms. Liu stepped in with leadership and created the elements herself while also setting up trainings for students who required additional instruction and guidance, over her winter break,” said adviser Meredith Evans.
Those efforts caught the attention of evaluators.
“I want to borrow all of Melissa Liu’s curriculum materials that she made to teach her staffers,” juror Melissa Falkowski, CJE, of Florida, said. “Impressive leadership and commitment to training and developing staff … so, so impressive.”
“No one learns more than the teacher, as the old saying goes, and you are clear evidence for this claim,” Kennedy said. “Your maturity and attention to detail are models for editors everywhere.”
A former Messenger editor, Jennifer Xia, recalled other examples of Liu’s leadership, including creating an “AP style bee” to get her peers excited about one of the more tedious parts of being a journalist and her attention to detail as an editor.
“She would provide detailed feedback and make sure it was implemented well, focusing not only on grammar, clarity and brevity (her formal responsibilities), but also the structure, quote choice and content,” Xia said. “Melissa would often advise writers to interview better sources and accompany them if they needed help, where other editors might have found it easier to pass the article onto the next round of edits.”
Beyond leadership, judges praised her own writing/reporting and graphic design.
“Design is your jam,” Butzu said “People don’t realize how much thought goes into an infographic, how much research, planning and artistic skill. You merge those skills to make not just meaningful stories, but you scour the options to find just the right tool/app/site to generate your work.”
Liu plans to continue studying journalism in college.
“Some of my best high school memories involve laboring over interview transcriptions hunting for ‘the quote,’ editing and re-editing articles alongside writers until they were up to par, and introducing new staffers to the powers of journalism that I was introduced to three years ago,” she said.
Tori Thorp, Oregon
At West Albany High School, Tori Thorp leads The Whirlwind news magazine. Her life is a bit of a whirlwind as well, with a marketing internship at the Albany Visitors Association; a bruising academic schedule of seven AP classes (and a No. 1 class ranking); involvement in organizations such as art club, student government, theater, Model UN, politics club and the West Albany Feminist Club, which she founded.
Thorp sees her future in storytelling.
“I want to be a part of the process of creating an online empire of truthful, ethical, diverse and beautifully delivered stories,” she wrote in her personal narrative. “We still have a long way to go until we accomplish a more transparent and accurate reporting process, but utilizing photojournalism, radio stories, video stories, podcasts, and social media in new and innovative ways is a step into the future that I hope to be a part of during my reporting career.”
Adviser Michelle Balmeo, MJE, hailed Thorp for her mastery of visual communication.
“Her illustrations pull readers into stories in the same way a good New Yorker cover makes you think, ‘Wow.’ For years, I’ve taught student journalists to get beyond first-level creativity, to find ways to communicate concepts through design, and Tori actually gets it,” Balmeo said. “As an artist and designer, she is cerebral and meticulous. She has a designer’s critical eye, but also a reporter’s inquiring mind and the skill of an expert researcher. Watching her work is exhausting because she is so engulfed by what she is doing, you can feel her intensity.”
Evaluator Kate Plows, CJE, of Pennsylvania, noted the connection between journalism and Thorp’s work as an artist.
“I truly appreciate the connections between your design packages and your AP studio art work,” she said. “The bridges you’ve connected between your deep interests in journalism and visual art make this portfolio a standout.”
She and other judges also praised Thorp’s reporting, including a series of stories about controversies in her local school district.
“Your artistic style is evident throughout your portfolio,” Alyssa Boehringer of Texas said. “But you are so much more than an artist. I loved reading about your journey as a reporter, then reading your stories.”
“You covered some heavy controversy, and you did so professionally,” Plows said. “Your school board package is an example of why we need this type of student journalism.”
The JEA Journalist of the Year competition starts at the state level, with winners from qualifying contests in each state, Washington, D.C. and JEA members at international schools. More than 200 entries were submitted to state contests; JEA received 36 entries. A 23-member jury of volunteers evaluated entries based on the 11 areas outlined on the competition rubric. Each candidate was nominated by a JEA member adviser. Click on the links below to view each state winner’s portfolio.
- ALABAMA: Ansley Brown, Thompson High School (adviser Christina Chambers)
- ARIZONA: Ezri Tyler, Sunnyslope High School (adviser James King)
- ARKANSAS: Elizabeth Bunnell, Southside High School (adviser Susan Colye, MJE)
- CALIFORNIA: Anushka De, Monta Vista High School (adviser Julia Satterthwaite, MJE)
- COLORADO: Kira Zizzo, Rock Canyon High School (adviser Kristi Rathbun, MJE)
- DELAWARE: Margaret Patterson, Padua Academy (adviser Dennis Leizear, CJE)
- FLORIDA: Asher Montgomery, Hillsborough High School (adviser Sierra Kruse)
- GEORGIA: Melissa Liu, Northview High School (adviser Meredith Evans)
- HAWAII: Chelsee Sawai, Mid-Pacific Institute (adviser Kara Hisatake)
- ILLINOIS: Olivia Kim, Prospect High School (adviser Jason Block, CJE)
- INDIANA: Atarah Israel, Munster High SChool (adviser Sarah-Anne Lanman, MJE)
- IOWA: Kailey Gee, Iowa City West High School (adviser Sara Whittaker, CJE)
- KANSAS: Cuyler Dunn, Lawrence High School (adviser Barbara Tholen, MJE)
- KENTUCKY: Keelin Davis, Bullitt East High School (adviser Larry Steinmetz, MJE)
- MASSACHUSETTS: Anushka Patil, Westford Academy (adviser Janet Fonden)
- MICHIGAN: Meghan Wysocki, Grosse Pointe South High School (adviser Kaitlin Edgerton, CJE)
- MINNESOTA: Elizabeth Trevathan, St. Paul Academy and Summit School (adviser Kathryn Campbell, CJE)
- MISSISSIPPI: Laura Renfroe, Pelahatchie High School (adviser Laura Grice)
- MISSOURI: Audrey Culver, Liberty North High School (adviser Ronna Sparks-Woodward, MJE)
- MONTANA: Elizabeth Hyde, Bigfork High School (adviser Charlotte Ball)
- NEBRASKA: Kaitlin Reynolds, Millard West High School (adviser Mark Hilburn, MJE)
- NEVADA: Ahmed Ahmed, Southwest Career and Technical Academy (adviser Matthew LaPorte, CJE)
- NORTH CAROLINA: Caroline Chen, East Chapel High School (adviser Neal Morgan)
- OHIO: Callia Peterson, Upper Arlington High School (adviser Robin Mollica)
- OREGON: Tori Thorp, West Albany High School (adviser Michelle Balmeo, MJE)
- PENNSYLVANIA: Lucy Bickel, Eastern Lebanon County High School (adviser Jonathan Bickel)
- RHODE ISLAND: Charlotte Fellingham, Lincoln High School (adviser Doreen Picozzi, MJE)
- SOUTH CAROLINA: Millie Rice, Wando High School (adviser Phillip Caston, CJE)
- SOUTH DAKOTA: Daniel Bethke, Lincoln High School (adviser Katie Kroeze)
- TEXAS: Amanda Hare, Prosper High School (adviser Lisa Roskens)
- UNITED KINGDOM: Cameron Spurr, The American School in London (adviser Louisa Avery, MJE)
- VIRGINIA: Anuj Khemka, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (adviser Erinn Harris, MJE)
- WASHINGTON: Alex Levin, Mercer Island High School (adviser Chris Twombley, CJE)
- WEST VIRGINIA: Sara Collins, Elkins High School (adviser Andrew Carroll)
- WISCONSIN:Annie Brown, Homestead High School (adviser Rachel Rauch)
- WYOMING: Carley Yule, Worland High School (adviser Sarah Staley)
Winners were honored April 9 at the Spring JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention in Los Angeles.
Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, promoting professionalism, encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.