The 2022 Betty Gage Holland Award winner investigated a particularly challenging issue — the death of a freshman due to alcohol toxicity at a fraternity — and produced a multifaceted and compelling package which offered the audience insight into the reporting process.
The winning piece, The Kentucky Kernel’s story “‘He’s not gonna make it to serenades.’ The missing details of the Hazelwood investigation,” was published in November 2022 by editor-in-chief Rayleigh Deaton.
This honor, founded in 2005, recognizes excellence in college journalism and honors the late Betty Gage Holland, a long-time friend of journalism education at the University of Georgia. Specifically, this award recognizes campus journalists and their publications for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses.
The piece stood out to the selection committee because it reflected this award’s focus on open records. Using witness testimonies, police reports and student conduct investigations, the reporter painstakingly reconstructed events with a timeline. Visually, the reconstruction featured redacted portions of reports, lab results and maps that provided crucial transparency in the reporting process.
As part of the reporting, an “Obtaining the Records” section exposed the lengths the newsroom went to for access to records — even a year after the student’s death. On the same day the Kernel released the story, the news organization published another report on the fraternity and an editorial criticizing the university’s response to the student death.
“With direct language from open records requests and responses from officials — and a podcast — readers got clear insight into how this type of journalism is done and the roadblocks many erect to stymie it,” said Amanda Bright, director of the Cox Institute’s Journalism Innovation Lab.
In her acceptance remarks at the Leadership Dinner on March 2, 2023, Deaton said she felt honored to receive the award in memory of Holland.
“I’m just really thankful that this story is being seen, not just for me but for the Hazelwood family,” Deaton said. This story was the culmination of over a year of reporting, as we waited over nine months for our open records request to be fulfilled from the University of Kentucky police and UK Office of Student Conduct.”
The Betty Gage Holland Award provides $1,000 to the winning student journalists and another $1,000 to the publication sponsoring the winning entry.