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3dball.gif (896 bytes) Best College Newspaper
Best College Newspaper (Public University)

     Florida Leader’s 1998 Oscar goes to The Oracle of the University of South Florida, a perennial underdog to news power The Independent Florida Alligator at the University of Florida. After a Titanic collision, The Oracle snatches the statue not so much for sinking The Alligator, but for consistently producing an outstanding and innovative daily with only a fraction of the tradition and resources The Alligator enjoys. From those to whom much is given, much is expected, according to the old proverb. That’s The Alligator’s iceberg this year—it’s a great paper but could be a lot better in light of its blessings, such as a fantastic journalism school, well-known and wealthy alums, 40,000-plus students from which to recruit, and a $1.5 million annual budget, according to General Manager C.E. Barber. The Oracle, on the other hand, has an $800,000 budget.
     Last year, The Oracle was Florida Leader’s bridesmaid for the best campus paper award. The Oracle also cruised in as third-best in the Southeast in the Society of Professional Journalists competition, with The Alligator taking second. But as Oracle Editor in Chief Michele Sager says, "We’re definitely a better paper this year. The staff has had an entire year to learn and grow. We’ve done in-depth pieces and we’ve expanded coverage of news. Our features section now covers more than just movies and plays. We redesigned our newspaper to make it more suitable for a tabloid, rather than cramming four stories on the front.
     "The staff has doubled in size. Before, we had just editors—all chiefs and no Indians," Sager says. "We have more staff in each department to send to find things. We used to hope we heard about it. Now we have more beat coverage.
     "I think our strength is that we stick to the campus—we cover things going on in Tallahassee, but we don’t cover all of Tampa," Sager says. "If students want that, they’ll read The Tampa Tribune and St. Petersburg Times. They want to read about what’s happening at USF. That’s why we try and combine the two." (See photo, pg. 33)
     Among the weekly and biweekly papers, The Beacon at Florida International University stands out. Advisor Lou Conrad says the paper is as close as it has ever been to running completely on advertising revenue. "We got no SG funding this year," he says. "We’re living off our advertising right now." The Beacon’s budget is approximately $115,000 per year, which pays for printing of 9,000 copies weekly, modest salaries, and supplies. The university provides office space.
     "We’ve improved. The sports editor is the best I’ve had since I’ve been here. They did basketball previews for both men’s and women’s programs and the athletic department said they’d never seen anything of that quality at FIU," Conrad says. "Pound for pound, based on the staff we have, I think we’re among the best."
     After being taken over by a private company that also publishes the University of Central Florida sports publication Into the Knights, The Future is on the comeback road. "We’re not afraid to shake the feathers of the president of the university," Managing Editor Olivia Curnow says. "We’re not afraid of publishing news critical of the administration, such as the coverage of Dr. Tubbs (former vice president for student affairs) who was asked to resign after 15 years, or the president’s $1.4 million house built on campus."
     On a sad note, this spring witnessed the scuttling of The Florida Flambeau, an independent daily that sailed into drydock after 83 years of covering Florida State University and the state legislature. Citing financial problems, The Flambeau hasn’t printed since December 1997, but the paper is soliciting donations and alternative financing in hopes of rising from the depths once again. Five-year-old FSView, an independent weekly, remains afloat as the main publication covering FSU.

Best College Newspaper (Private University)
     While The Hurricane at the University of Miami is as strong as ever, The Reporter at Stetson University takes top honors for its remarkable progress over the past year. Editor Andy Dehnart not only spruced up the paper’s look with a complete redesign, but as he says, "We’ve really increased the way students can interact with us. They also contribute to ’Shout,’ a new feature this year. Readers call, write, or e-mail gripes and cheers, which we print anonymously in the ‘Life’ section," Dehnart says. "We used to have to scrape opinions together, but now we have a greater number of letters to the editor and lots of e-mail from readers.
     "When we reported on an administrator who was accused of harassment, people were fighting our circulation person to get a copy," Dehnart says. "They really like to read the paper, and we’re getting compliments. Some people have told me the paper is the best they’ve ever seen in the 20-plus years."
     The Reporter has a budget of $30,000 annually, $12,000 of which is a loan repaid through advertising revenue. Dehnart says the editor gets a $2,000 scholarship, while other staffers take home a small weekly stipend. About 12 editors and staffers produce 2,200 copies of the paper each week. (See photo, p.13)
     Another paper at the University of Miami, Res Ipsa Loquiter ("the thing speaks for itself"), serving the School of Law, offers attorneys-to-be a chance to prepare for the time when they’ll have to write 20-page briefs in a single day. As Editor Brian Hamburger says, "We take away the stigma of writing. You can do quality work in a short time."

Best College Newspaper (Community College)
     This year, a host of papers impress. Florida Leader’s top award goes to The Observer of Broward Community College, a four-time Florida Leader winner including three of the past four years. The Observer certainly is in a class by itself among community college newspapers. With an annual budget of $35,000, a staff of 11 editors who receive tuition waivers, and a press run of 10,000, Florida Leader can’t help but wonder how The Observer would stack up against the Miami-Dade papers if they combined and pooled resources and staff. Such a publication probably would give even the UF and USF papers a run for their money.
     Second-year Editor in Chief Steve Coate says he’s particularly proud of The Observer’s Diversions page. "About 90 percent of the comics are student-drawn. In addition to editorial art, we have art to go with the features and news sections." The Observer also made a difference with its coverage of an incident of "sick building syndrome" on campus. "Students and faculty had made reports, calling in sick, attributing it to the working environment," Coates says. "After this story ran and we talked with administrators, the college did get someone out there to clean out the air ducts."
     Observer advisor Tom Lassiter says the paper’s strength is its consistency year after year despite inevitable staff turnover. "The students have become effective recruiters to bring new staff in. I’m happy to see that," Lassiter says. "We had some go out to high schools to recruit."
     Best community college paper runner-up has to be The Valencia Source of Valencia Community College, mainly thanks to its in-depth news coverage. "When Valencia’s sports program was cut completely, we covered every single aspect of that story," says Sohail Mamdani, editor in chief. "We included reaction and quotes from players, the president of the college, and administrators. The best reward we got was when administrators called and said they’re very upset. Believe me, I don’t think there was a single office that didn’t call and complain."
     The Talon at Tallahassee Community College warrants a special mention for its outstanding feature writing, while Daytona Beach Community College’s In Motion earns kudos for its colorful and easy-to-read design. In Motion reached an all-time high this year, according to Advisor Bruce Cook. "Based on the rate of consumption at the stands, it’s being read," he says of the monthly. "The design remake was their strong suit this year." Cook is quick to credit former editor Mark Schaible for In Motion’s new look. "The students do it all," he says.
     At The Metropolis of Miami-Dade’s Wolfson Campus, Advisor Philip Lane says his students not only need to cover campus, but the community. "We’re in downtown Miami, on the sixth floor. I tell them, ‘If you can see it out the window, you should cover it.’ There’s a development across from campus which has had a hard time of it. The students are working on a story to account for the lack of stability and have talked with students and shopkeepers. It’s more of a real-life reporting experience for them, rather than writing about textbook prices going up."
     At Pensacola Junior College, Editor Heidi Call’s number-one challenge for The Corsair is appealing to a more diverse audience. "We have a lot of continuing ed courses for people in their 60s and 70s, so we cover not only the punk bands, but jazz too," Call says. "We do the same for book reviews and restaurant reviews. It’s not just the hot spots for younger people, we try to cater to everyone."

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Nominate Your School for the 2001 Best of Florida Schools award.