University of Nebraska–Lincoln journalism student takes first in national contest

Tuesday, December 19, 2017 - 10:45am

Marcella Mercer, a senior journalism major at  the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, has taken first place in the feature writing category of the 2017-2018 Hearst Journalism Awards Competition for her story, “Fathers and Sons.” Hearst judges selected Mercer’s story No. 1 from among 154 entries submitted by 82 journalism programs.

“It's definitely been my college dream to win, but actually hearing I did was strange, wonderful and humbling,” Mercer said. “I think this is the first time I've thought I couldn't have worked any harder or done any better on a piece of writing, so it's really rewarding to see that be enough to win Hearst. The story was so powerful on its own.”

Mercer, a Nebraska City native, wrote about a young Ugandan boy, Mafabi Shadrach, who was diagnosed with kidney cancer. The story follows 5-year-old Shadrach and his father, James Michael, on their journey and their time spent at the Bless a Child Foundation in Kampala, Uganda.

The story was written as part of a larger project, “Global Eyewitness: Uganda.” Last May, students from the College of Journalism and Mass Communications travelled to the African nation as part of the program. CoJMC professor Bruce Thorson selected students to travel to developing countries to document the lives of those who live there.

Mercer and photographer Emily McMinn, a junior journalism and advertising and public relations double major at the CoJMC, met with the family last May to document their story. Mercer wrote the story, while McMinn, an Omaha native, captured all of the project’s visuals. You can read the full story here.

“It is great to have our students excel in these competitions and in other co-curriular-associated endeavors,” said Maria Marron, dean of the College of Journalism and Mass Communications. “The success of our students is our collective and individual raison d’etre. Marcella’s first-place award speaks volumes about her passion, talent and dedication and about the great faculty who work diligently with our students in the college, one of the premier colleges in the nation by any measure.”

As a result of her first-place finish, Mercer will receive a $3,000 scholarship from the Hearst Foundation, and the college will receive a matching grant for the same amount.

The Hearst Journalism Awards Program is composed of 14 monthly competitions in which students from accredited journalism programs nationwide compete for awards in five categories: writing, photojournalism, radio and television, multimedia and a cumulative intercollegiate award. The monthly competitions culminate in a national championship round held in San Francisco every June.

According to the Hearst Journalism Awards Program website: “The program was founded in 1960 to provide support, encouragement, and assistance to journalism education at the college and university level. The program awards scholarships to students for outstanding performance in college-level journalism, with matching grants to the students’ schools.”

Mercer is a senior journalism major from Nebraska City.
Mercer is a senior journalism major from Nebraska City.