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Two News Media Majors Win Breaking News Story Awards


Johnson and Turner received a first-place Pinnacle Award for Best Multimedia Breaking News Story by the Collegiate Media Association, and a third-place Pacemaker Award for Multimedia Story of the Year by the Associated Collegiate Press. Photo courtesy of Steve Fidel.

PR Student: Kei Akoi Clark
This article was produced in cooperation with the COMMS 425 lab.

Daily Universe journalists win multiple awards from the College Media Association and Associated Collegiate Press

BYU journalists Ryan Turner and Kjersten Johnson drove 14 hours to the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota. They broke a multimedia news story about the Dakota Access Pipeline, which eventually resulted in two prestigious awards.

The team was awarded a first-place Pinnacle Award for Best Multimedia Breaking News Story by the College Media Association and a third-place Pacemaker Award for Multimedia Story of the Year by the Associated Collegiate Press. Their report on thousands of Native Americans and other protesters protecting land and water sources in November 2016 titled “The Black Snake Wins” also won the College Media Association’s Best of Show at the Apple Awards in New York City this past February.

The story was published in BYU’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Universe. Turner said neither of the journalism graduates realized that the supervising faculty at the Daily Universe had entered their project into the two competitions, but felt thrilled to hear the news of their win at the Dallas awards ceremony from Daily Universe Director Steve Fidel.

The CMA judged entries from 212 schools nationwide. Fidel said, “Judging is always subjective. But it’s less subjective when a project is recognized from two different organizations in the same week.”

Fidel admires the initiative of Turner and Johnson, who invested their own time and money to report on a controversial situation without the motivations of a grade. “They did it because it was a professional project they could see had potential.”

Improper coverage, lack of coverage and different versions of the story in the media prompted Johnson and Turner to go and report the real story. They witnessed firsthand a few journalists who picked and chose facts to report and misrepresented the real situation to match their agenda. An integral part of their final story focused on this aspect of journalism at Standing Rock camps.


Kjersten Johnson shared a tent with her now husband and eight others in the North Dakota November winter. In just one weekend, they reported an award-winning story called, “The Black Snake Wins.” Photo courtesy of Kjersten Johnson.

Turner expressed gratitude for the BYU professors who emphasize covering all sides of a story. “We went in with the goal to be objective and we left with coverage because we maintained that objectivity.”

Johnson reminisces about the relationship-defining conversation the pair had before packing into a tiny Kia Soul together. The back seat was stuffed with audio and lighting equipment and sleeping bags, and the students were determined to capture the Dakota Access Pipeline story together. Seeing police brutality and dishonesty was particularly difficult for Turner. “We live in America and I’ve always been optimistic about our police force. But to hear a police chief get up there and report the ‘facts,’ after everything we saw the night before. It was a shocking moment for me.”

Turner and Johnson were tear gassed by policemen, attended press conferences drenched in sweat and smoke and couldn’t shower over the weekend—but Johnson explained that it was a pivotal moment in their new relationship. “We were both scared. We were both trying to take care of each other. But we both also wanted to get that story.”

Fidel and Universe Newsroom Manager Carrie Moore mentored the couple before, during and after their experience at Standing Rock. Brandon Buchanan, a Universe web developer, was also a key player in piecing together shocking visual footage and interviews of protesters’ experiences.

Watch their award-winning story “The Black Snake Wins” here.

Several other talented staff members from the Daily Universe were honored for their hard work and success at the CMA and ACP awards in Dallas.


Multiple BYU News Media Students won national awards from the College Media Association and Associated Collegiate Press in Dallas, Texas. Photo courtesy of Steve Fidel.

Zoe Wolff McGinn earned a third-place CMA Pinnacle Best Podcast award for an in-depth look at the Facebook algorithm’s effect on politics titled “Facebook echo chambers divisive.”

Sarah Averett Harris won third-place ACP Multimedia Feature Pacemaker Award for her humanitarian work feature “On the Waitlist to Serve Refugees.”  The story covered Utahans’ overwhelming response to aid refugees after direction from the April 2016 LDS General Conference.

Haley Hilton earned fourth-place in Multimedia Sports at the ACP Pacemaker Awards for her piece highlighting dancers’ painful struggle with perfectionism called “The Cost of Perfection.”

For a full list of incredible winners at the CMA and ACP awards, visit and