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Journalism Students Place Among Top 20 Winners in Hearst Awards Competition

Hearst cover

Hearst coverTwo journalism students, Keating Zelenke and Skylar Sena, won Hearst Journalism Awards recently. They each placed among the top 20 students nationally in the multimedia innovative journalism and sports categories, respectively. 

“I am thrilled to see so many of our students and recent graduates honored by these organizations,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism (SoCJ) and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “These awards are a testament to their hard work and diligence in telling stories that matter, accurately and ethically.”

Keating Zelenke placed 12th for her story, A Feedback Loop of Pure Sex – limitless pornography and AI image generators. The story, written for Zelenke’s journalism capstone project, revolves around the uncomfortable but very real ethical challenges surrounding unregulated AI image generation. In a society where sex sells and pornography is a Google search away, Zelenke interviewed AI experts about the potential repercussions of AI-generated pornography. 

Some of the biggest concerns include the potential for child pornography, which, if generated using images of fake children, could circumvent current laws against such content. The experts Zelenke talked to also worried how the existing porn industry and its actors would be affected if consumers could now create content catered perfectly to their fantasies, no matter how extreme. 

Zelenke was the editor of The Stony Brook Press before graduating in 2023. She was also the recipient of the Fair Media Council’s 2023 award for feature writing and won another Hearst Award in 2022 for her story in the same category, The Romance of Wooden Boats

Sena, a third-year journalism major and creative writing minor, tied for her story Bloodied bombshells: the double standard for women in wrestling. Written for The Statesman, Stony Brook’s student-run campus newspaper, Sena’s story focuses on professional female wrestlers’ fight for fair treatment in a male-dominated sport. 

Professional female wrestlers struggle to be taken seriously in a sport where they receive significantly less airtime than their male counterparts and have historically been confined to sexually charged storylines. Dipping into solutions journalism, Sena compares female wrestling in the U.S. to countries overseas like Japan, where women in wrestling are taken much more seriously and even encouraged to compete in the sport. Solutions journalism entails rigorous, compelling reporting about responses to society’s problems, providing context and evidence —  including how and why these responses do or don’t work. 

“Our students continue to place with top honors in this highly competitive national competition and it’s a testament to their hard work and dedication to quality journalism,” said George Giokas, the journalism instructor who handles Hearst Award nominations for the school. “We’re all very proud of their accomplishments.”

The Hearst Awards are open to all undergraduate journalism students who are enrolled in a program accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Stony Brook is one of two public universities in the state to have an accredited program. 

In recent years, SoCJ students have won more than two dozen prizes, distinguishing the school as one of the top-winning journalism programs in the country alongside programs from Arizona State and Syracuse University.

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