A writing contest prompt on Twitter that included a question about your four favorite words caught the attention of Kate Smith as the spring semester drew to a close.
Five weeks later, the Creighton journalism and political science major found herself in the Top 10 of the national contest with renewed confidence in her writing and a thriving network of professional and student journalists.
“The entry requirements kind of drew me in – a video introducing myself and what kind of journalism I am interested in, along with my four favorite words and one least favorite word in the text of the email,” Smith said. “It sounded like the contest was designed by people who were passionate about writing. I didn’t know any of the judges prior to the contest, but they each had a long list of accomplishments behind their names and really great Twitters.”
Six veteran journalists started the contest as they viewed the pandemic effects on young writers as potential internships dried up. The veteran writers had won a Pulitzer, wrote best-selling books and sported resumes featuring work at the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Sun-Times and Bleacher Report. They organized the contest, rounded up prizes and evaluated work along with guest judges for each round.
Smith was one of 409 high school, college and graduate students who competed in the five rounds. Each round had a prompt and featured feedback from the judges. The contestants wrote part of a profile, feature, a food review, an obituary and an opinion piece. Each week, the field of contestants narrowed, though writers could continue to submit as a wild card.
Smith’s favorite was the profile of her grandfather.
“I think it captured him perfectly, allowed me to get closer to him and showed off my writing and skills,” she said. “The assignment was just for the first 200 words of the profile, so I’m planning to write the rest of it this summer and share it with him and the rest of my family.”
What Smith found in the contest was renewed confidence in her writing.
“It exposed me to assignments I don’t see very often. In the past, I’ve only written food reviews, obituaries and opinion pieces in the classroom,” she said. “Having an opportunity to write outside my comfort zone improved my writing. And the judges gave constructive feedback that helped me improve, as well.”
A weekly video of the judges commenting on the work of all of the writers was one of Smith’s favorite parts of the feedback.
“They recorded their discussions over Zoom about their favorite pieces, mistakes made by the group as a whole and the most innovative writing,” she said. “These were helpful because they didn’t just talk about my writing. I also got to hear the best submissions from other students and why they sparked interest in the judges.”
The power of networking and mentoring impressed Smith as well. As one of the prizes, she has a consultation scheduled with David Maraniss, a Washington Post associate editor who won a Pulitzer for his work covering Bill Clinton.
“The interaction from the judges was amazing,” Smith said. The mentoring was not only in the contest’s formal feedback, but also encouragement on social media.
Her network now extends to the other student journalists.
“It was fun comparing pieces each week, and I now follow all these young journalists from across the country on Twitter, and we’re sure to meet again in our fields,” she said.
The honors student has made the most of her double major. She interned at Omaha magazine. Next, an internship at CNN in Washington, D.C., during the semester she spent there as part of the Political Science Department’s Capitol Hill Internship Program. She works now as a copy editor for the Omaha World-Herald. She will be doing research with journalism professor Peggy Rupprecht, PhD, this summer. And she will be editor in chief of the Creightonian in the fall.