Graduation awards: Celebrating student excellence

It has been an outstanding year for graduating Journalism students at the University of Portsmouth. An incredible 94% of students achieved an upper second class honours degree or above, with 43% of those achieving a first.

Among those top results were four prizewinners who went above and beyond with the standard of their work. We asked them about the projects which led to their prizes and their experience here at Portsmouth.

Milldam Building — Photo by jamesmellor

First up is Toby Dennison, who won the School Prize for the Best Journalism Dissertation and we asked him to describe his 10,000-word project. He said: ‘My project was essentially an examination of how transgender and gender-variant children are treated by three different national newspapers, with two background chapters looking at gender/queer theory and existing studies into trans representation.

Toby Dennison

‘The three newspapers were chosen due to their popularity and combination of editorial and political stances, and the articles were sourced from the LexisNexis database — a lot easier than trawling through endlessly hard copies in the hope that this issue will turn up something useful!’

When asked what his biggest triumph was, he said: ‘Successfully analysing 25-odd Daily Mail articles about a very sensitive subject?’ And his biggest difficulty? ‘Having to analyse 25-odd Daily Mail articles about a very sensitive subject!’

He said: ‘Honestly, what’s made my time at Portsmouth as memorable as it was is undoubtedly the people I’ve been here with. It’s one of the oldest clichés I know, but I guess it’s a cliché for a reason since I have no idea where I’d be without the people I’ve met over the past three years so I guess this a shout out to, well, everyone really…’

The School Prize for Best Special Investigation went to Rowan Nevin, who produced four articles and a short essay on the subject of openly gay male professional footballers.

Rowan Nevin

He said: ‘I chose the topic because it encompassed two of my longest held passions: football and equal rights. Whilst my high level of interest in the subject made the task more manageable, there were still many challenges. As baffling as it seems, homosexuality still carries the aura of a taboo subject within football and this was reflected in the large number of rejections that my interview requests were met with. There was also the issue of having limited examples to draw upon when making an argument — you can count the number of professional footballers who have come out during their playing career on one hand.

‘Despite these difficulties, the investigation was by far the most rewarding piece of work I have ever completed. Speaking to Aslie Pitter MBE- a founding member of the world’s most successful gay football team- and hearing about the adversity and discrimination he has battled throughout his life, both on and off the pitch, will be a memory I cherish for the rest of my life.

‘My personal highlight of the project was interviewing Henry Winter. The chief football writer at the Times was one of my inspirations for wanting to become a sports journalist and was a fantastic interviewee. I put a great deal of time and effort into this project and to have that recognised by this award is very humbling.’

He added: ‘My time in Portsmouth has exceeded all expectations and I now consider the city a second home. It’s easy to navigate, full of great pubs and bars, has a beach and is football mad, so it really ticks all the boxes. Essentially though, it is the people that have made my Portsmouth experience so enjoyable. I have made some friends for life both on and off the course and could not have asked for a better set of lecturers.

‘When I was deciding on which universities to apply for back in 2013, I opted for Portsmouth because the staff had been so warm, informative and supportive during the open days I attended. Looking back, I am very happy that I made that decision.’

A new prize this year was the Briscoe French PR Prize for the student with the best Public Relations work. This was won by Holly Morgan. She said: ‘I absolutely adored Press and PR, and was eager to put together a unique, creative and sophisticated press pack for a quirky and upcoming company.

Holly Morgan

‘As an aspiring food and travel writer, I wanted a product that served an ‘indie’, ‘foodie’, ‘health-conscious’ brand of person. After much research, I chose Seedlip, a non-alcoholic, botanical spirit company which produce calorie-free beverages for those seeking an alcohol-free alternative to gin. The hard-copy, press pack contained — an information booklet, that introduced the brand to the consumer, a recipe book, filled with cocktail concoctions and various ways to use the ‘gin’, a contact card, an order form, and a few ‘giveaways’ including a bumper sticker, taster-size bottle of Seedlip, and a bottle of Fevertree tonic.

‘I was completely inspired by the company’s branding and wanted to maintain their identity by sticking to the white and green colour scheme, botanical graphics and overall simplicity. All printing was done on 300gsm silk paper, and the project was presented in a white box. A lot of time and thought went into it, however it was a truly enjoyable task which I loved putting together.’

So, what did she learn through the Press and PR Unit? ‘I learned that Public Relations is an incredibly competitive field, that requires a lot of ‘thinking outside the box’. Throughout our PR learning experience, I was continuously thinking ‘What can I do, to make a product/service even better?’. Creativity, along with being timely, efficient, well-presented and diligent are challenges I faced on many occasions. However, I believe the skill-set we were taught through Journalism, equipped us for challenges far beyond this.’

What about her experiences of Portsmouth? She said: ‘I remember our induction day so clearly; I was a naive, quiet, international student who felt like a fish out of water. Admittedly, I spent my first two months pining to go back home. Since then, I can genuinely say my experience at the University of Portsmouth has been one I will treasure for the rest of my life.

‘From covering everything I am passionate about, and learning unimaginable things throughout the Journalism course, to spontaneously joining a cricket club and making the most unforgettable memories to meeting the most interesting people who are now friends for life — I will forever be in debt to this wonderful, sometimes strange city that I have called home for the past three years.

The University of Portsmouth, and more specifically, the Journalism department has provided me with a set of skills I would have never achieved alone, which in turn has given me an incredibly strong desire to follow my dreams.’

Finally, the winner of the Baize Group/Press Association Award for the most Outstanding Journalism Student was Byron Melton, profiled on these pages last week. He said: ‘It’s a huge privilege to be singled out for this award. It would not be possible to be in this position were it not for the three years of stellar tuition I received throughout my studies. For that reason, I believe I must, similarly, single out the endeavours of my lecturers. Thank you for the countless hours of tuition, encouragement and feedback — this award is testament to your efforts.’

Byron Melton

All four received their prizes at the Graduation Ceremony on July 21.

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