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Despite limitations, Eckerd student journalists earn national kudos

Mark Parker



Katya Tjahaja (left), outgoing editor-in-chief for the Current, John Saxton (second from left), incoming editor-in-chief, and newspaper staff in November 2023. Photos provided.

Eckerd College’s student reporters have recently received an influx of state and national recognition, despite competing against larger schools with dedicated journalism programs.

In August 2023, the St. Petersburg institution’s student-run newspaper, The Current, received six journalism awards from the Florida Society of News Editors. The publication and student magazine, Cat. 5, then finished first in two categories and second in two others at the National College Media Association (CMA) Pinnacle Awards in November.

Dr. Janet Keeler, faculty advisor and journalism and communications instructor, now hopes to build on that momentum. While Eckerd enrolls less than 2,000 students, she said their various academic focuses foster “all kinds of interesting ideas.”

“They’re looking at the world in different ways,” Keeler added. “It’s fun to watch. As an advisor, you’re sort of in the bowling lane with the bumpers. Not wanting them to veer off too much, but you have to give them some freedom.”

Recent graduate Carter Weinhofer won first place for Best Sports Feature at the CMA Awards in Atlanta. He has since parlayed his experience with the Current into a full-time position with the Longboat Observer.

Like many of the college’s writers, Weinhofer said he didn’t enroll at Eckerd to pursue a journalism career. He became the Current’s senior editor and co-wrote “Micro Tussle, Big Hustle” with classmate Ian Shepperd.

In addition to being named the nation’s best sports feature by a school with 1,000 to 3,000 students, the article and its designer, Atlas Chambers, finished second in the Best Magazine Sports Page/Spread category.

“I think it shows a lot of passion and drive, above anything else,” Weinhofer said. “It’s not just the writing and reporting … we’re doing the budgeting, paying for print and even making spreadsheets of expenses.”

Dr. Janet Keeler (left), journalism and communications instructor, and Carter Weinhofer, who won multiple awards during his tenure at Eckerd College.

The Current publishes monthly, sometimes more, and Keeler described Cat. 5 as a “slick, glossy” triannual 40-page magazine. Eckerd introduced Cat. 5 in 2023, and issue two placed third in CMA’s Magazine of the Year voting.

The organization was founded in 1954 and serves over 600 member institutions. However, most of those schools have a formal journalism program.

“They have a minor at Eckerd, they don’t have a major,” Keeler explained. “Everybody is majoring in something else – environmental studies, marine biology, creative writing or something like that.”

Many students plan to work in communications for degree-related agencies after graduation. Keeler also noted that most young adults have never held a newspaper, as many of their parents are also part of the online generation.

“They don’t really have a good sense of what journalism is,” she added. “They’re getting their news because it’s shared on their social media, just like a lot of us do.”

Keeler compared today’s journalism classes to media literacy courses. That begins with the basics, like the difference between breaking news and investigative reporting.

Eckerd earned its CMA recognition over some slightly larger schools with journalism majors. Those discrepancies increased exponentially with the Florida Society of News Editors (FSNE) awards.

Established in 1955, the organization does not separate its collegiate entrants according to size. Eckerd gathered two first-place honors and finished second or third in four categories.

“Some of the awards they got were third place, but the first and second place awards went to UF (University of Florida) students,” Keeler said. “We’re competing with the bigger schools here, so I thought that was pretty impressive.”

She was referring to Weinhofer’s “Envisioning a more resilient Eckerd” article featured in Cat. 5. While it finished third in the FSNE’s enterprise news category, the Society of Professional Journalists – the nation’s oldest and largest journalism organization – awarded it first place for general news reporting among the southeastern region’s small colleges.

An Eckerd release called Weinhofer a “driving force” behind Cat. 5’s creation. While his workload drastically increased as a professional journalist, Weinhofer noted his time writing for a waterfront school helped prepare him to report from a barrier island about 36 miles south.

He and Keeler noted that students are working to bolster their output through the Current’s website. Weinhofer also hopes the recent success will help propel Cat. 5, which allows them to write longer stories and display “great visuals.”

“We’re getting all of these awards and recognition, even without a major,” Weinhofer said. “Imagine what students could do with more classes and more time devoted to a journalism major.

“I think it could go way beyond this.”




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    February 13, 2024at9:43 am

    Dr. Keeler is an amazing and inspiring professor, perfect for Eckerd College’s individual approach to students.

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