Laurier Brantford Grad Wins Prestigious Journalism Honours

– Kristen Curtis, Student Life Editor

Meagan Gillmore, the previous Features Editor for The Sputnik, has won the David S. Barr Award from The Newspaper Guild of the Communications Workers of America for her final piece on the south side of Colborne Street from the March 10, 2010 edition of the student paper.

Gillmore won the award unanimously as voted by four judges. She won a $1,500 cash prize and was flown to Baltimore on Thursday where she attended a dinner and reception. Friday, she was flown to Washington DC.

Speaking of the award, Gillmore says most of all it’s humbling.

“It’s humbling because it really is a big honour, at least I’ve been told it is,” Gillmore said. “It’s overwhelming because of all the recognition. I tend to try to downplay things, whether good or bad. So having all these people, most of whom I don’t know, want to talk to me about it is kind of strange.”

“I knew the articles were good; I wouldn’t have entered it if I didn’t think that. And sure, I dreamed about winning: I thought it would be fun to wear a fancy dress and eat fancy food. But maybe it’s like when people place at the Olympics – in your head you think, ‘Sure, I want to win’ – why else would someone play? But when it happens, it’s still pretty shocking. I said ‘thank you’ a lot on the phone [when I was told that she won the award]”.

As a student journalist, Gillmore overcame an unusual barrier.

“I’m registered as legally blind,” she explains. “And I have 20/200 [vision] which means objects you see from 200 feet away I have to be 20 feet away from to see, or closer, and even then I’ll likely miss some details.”

The award has boosted Gillmore’s confidence in her journalistic abilities. She was worried that due to her impairment, she would have trouble finding a career after university.

“It’s even more difficult because I don’t see my visual impairment as that big on the scale of visual impairments,” Gillmore said. “So I find it confusing when people think I can’t do things when I’m pretty sure I can. In this way, it’s a big morale booster.”

Gillmore is now able to consider other opportunities in her life with that jolt of confidence.

“I spent a lot of my last year trying to figure out if I even wanted to go into journalism after school. I had other options to consider. And then add to that an element of, ‘Ok, even if I decided to pursue this, would there even be a place for me? Because sometimes it was even really hard working for the Sputnik with this disability.’ It’s nice to know that there’s a possibility of there being options.”

Gillmore is pleased that she won the award as a Sputnik writer because it is a small paper fighting to survive on its own and be recognized as a viable source of information and she thinks that it was validated by her award. “It means a lot that a small paper got that recognition,” she said honestly.

Gillmore put in countless hours and energy for this particular article, as well as other extensive articles as part of her Colborne Street series. She estimates spending hundreds of hours working on them and conducted at least forty interviews over the course of the school year.

Asked why. Gillmore says she did this because she was curious; she was bored – she was living in Brantford for the summer and could not find a job; and she is a Christian who believes that it is important to take care of the poor and marginalized people in society. She says if she were in that position she would want her story told.

Gillmore went above and beyond phone or online interviews with her subjects – having lunch with people and touring their homes. She acknowledges that social media can isolate many people and prefers face-to-face connections with her interview subjects and saying that, “Journalism [is about] bringing about change yet journalism is changing so much… social media [is] excluding people.”

Gillmore is one of the few Canadians to win this award. Last year, it was won by a Queen`s University student.

“It’s good to know Ontario papers are making it big two years in a row!” Gillmore exclaimed. “Knowing that not many stories from Canada have won made winning pretty special.”

This award is run every year and almost anyone can enter. Gillmore won for the college/university-aged writer division as there is a high school category and many categories for adult, working journalists. The award entries are due every year at the end of January.

Gillmore, who was encouraged to apply for this award by a Laurier Brantford journalism professor, says her professors have been very supportive of her and she appreciates having attended a small university campus.

Gillmore graduated from Laurier this past spring. She almost missed her graduation because of her award – the awards ceremony was to be held on the same day. She decided to attend the awards ceremony, but fortunately, the ceremony was moved to October at the last minute.

In winning the award, Gillmore represented Laurier; she says that, “It’s a pretty big honour for Laurier as an institution,” and she adds that her school and program are included on her award.

Gillmore encourages all students to become involved with The Sputnik.

“If you’re not involved in journalism consider getting involved,” she said. “[The] paper benefits from more voices.”

Gillmore regrets not getting involved with The Sputnik sooner in her university career. She didn’t start writing until her second semester of her second year. She says that it is practical to start early because you can start to build your portfolio and get more experience.

Always humble, Gillmore is quick to point out that she could not have won this award without the help of the entire Sputnik team – including those who did the paper`s layout, photography and supported the story of the South side of Colborne Street through pieces in the opinion section of The Sputnik. She said that this award represents, “her story and that of her team.”

A native of Brantford, Gillmore is quick to point out that there are many well known writers for are from Brantford including June Callwood and Sarah Jeannette Duncan. She hopes to continue the legacy.

Most of all, Gillmore hopes that she can set an example and inspire others. She advocates to others who are interested in journalism, “don’t just do it for the money or recognition. Do it because it’s needed.”

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