Durham College wins big at Ontario Community Newspaper Association awards

The Journalism – Mass Media program was a big winner at the Ontario Community Newspaper Association’s (OCNA) Better Newspapers Competition on April 14.

The event, which was held virtually, recognized the best in community journalism over the last year. The Durham College (DC) Chronicle took home top honours in ‘General Excellence’ among college and university newspapers for the third consecutive year. While all the students and faculty members who contributed to the Chronicle during the 2021-22 academic year share in that award, two members of the 2022 graduating class received special recognition.

Joey Cole won first in ‘Student News Writing’ for a piece on the local community’s support for Ukraine. In ‘Student Photography’, Corrado Distefano earned second place for an action shot of the Ontario Tech University men’s hockey team.

For Cole, covering such a sensitive and emotional topic was a challenging but memorable experience. In April of 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was just beginning, and the young journalist was tasked with interviewing a number of people who had very personal ties to the conflict.

“Talking to people who had fled their homes, when I’m coming from college and I have my whole life here, and they had to give all that up, it was surreal and daunting,” she said.

For Distefano, who spent a lot of time covering the Ridgebacks hockey team, snapping an award-winning photo was all about being in the right place at the right time.

“When you’re taking photos in environments like that, it’s about finding the right areas of the rink, and having the best spot. I was just lucky that I had a good spot, and something eventful happened in front of me,” he said.

The recognition from the OCNA proves that DC is leading the way in preparing students for the challenging world of modern journalism, according to co-program coordinators Danielle Harder and Teresa Goff.

“It speaks to the value they get from the experiential learning model we work under. They don’t just go to class. They go out and cover stories,” explained Harder, who emphasized the program’s commitment to getting out into the community – safely – during the waning days of the pandemic. “A lot of students and campuses were still doing journalism exclusively online, and our students weren’t. We had a lot of students who went into the community to do interviews, and I think that was reflected in how we placed.”

What sets the Chronicle apart, according to Goff, is how the students work as a team. Before submitting their stories and photos to their professors, students will consult each other and share support and advice as they strive to produce the best product they can.

“They created a working newsroom in which they all worked together, and that really increases the impact of the work they do. There’s a lot of sharing of knowledge within the classroom, and that adds value because the editors and teachers aren’t the only part of the process,” Goff said.

Since graduating, both students have benefitted from the lessons they learned at DC. Cole has discovered a surprising talent for video editing, which she puts to good use at the Oshawa Public Library. Distefano is continuing his education at Ontario Tech in Communication and Digital Media Studies, with an eye toward working in public relations for a sports team.

Wherever their careers take them, their time at the Chronicle has prepared them to meet any challenge.

“One day we’d be doing radio writing, then we’re print writing, and then we’re video editing. It really gets you ready for switching mediums. You can jump anywhere out of this program,” said Cole.

“It’s a jack-of-all-trades program,” added Distefano. “You can take pieces out of everything that you learn.”

If future Journalism students do the same, the awards will continue to roll in.