2024 Impact Award winner perseveres with election coverage

2024 Impact Award winner perseveres with election coverage

By Louisa Avery, MJE, JEA awards chair

“In October of 2023, I got my first taste of investigative journalism,” Jae Jepsen said. “There was an upcoming school board election in my district that had become very polarizing within the community, but I saw that the local news was doing little to circulate information about candidates. With the support of my journalism adviser, I set out to explore the controversies and issues at stake in the election.”

For her perseverance and determination to fill the gap in coverage by writing about this election, the Journalism Education Association and Quill and Scroll International Honorary Society for High School Journalists have awarded Jae Jepsen of Pleasant Valley High School in Bettendorf, Iowa, the 2024 Student Journalist Impact Award.

Jepsen interviewed seven of the eight candidates and attended a public forum between the candidates in order to accurately cover the election. In total, she wrote four articles about the election, continuing to cover the story as it developed after a recount was called. 

Maureen Dyer, Jepsen’s journalism teacher, said Jepsen’s work was commended by many in the community, including the superintendent and local journalists. 

“Her work over the course of two months in the fall prompted the highest voter turnout our district has ever seen, with countless social media posts, emails and private messages sent from members of the community praising her for providing information that could not be found elsewhere,” Dyer said. “Eventually, the local media did cover some of the details surrounding our school board election. But not only did those stories provide a fraction of the information that Jae did … they contacted Jae for information.”

Carolyn Haslinger, associate professor of multimedia journalism and mass communication at Augustana College, was so impressed with Jepsen’s reporting that she reached out and offered her support. 

“Jae’s solid reporting on this election surpassed the coverage by the professional media in its depth and courage,” Haslinger said. “Her articles were shared among PV parent Facebook groups and beyond to spread the word about the stakes of this election. Her work was instrumental in raising community awareness about the importance of the election, spurring voter turnout and educating voters so they could make informed decisions. Jae’s reporting is a testament to the power and impact of strong journalism.”

Jepsen said the process of reporting on the school board election was life changing. 

“Being recognized in my community as a real journalist is an incredible honor as a student, and the lessons I have learned are priceless,” Jepsen said. “More than anything, this process has made me more steadfast in my love for journalism, reinforcing that a career in the field is exactly what I want to do.”

The award will be presented April 4 at the opening ceremony of the Spring JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention in Kansas City.

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