University News

Journalism hosts sixth annual audio storytelling competition

May 8, 2024

Banded iron found in Michigan and its connection to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Brain injuries related to domestic violence. Telling the stories of a fading generation of Holocaust survivors. Attitudes toward aging. Lived experiences of an Asian adoptee in the United States. And conversations in nature shared between grandfather and grandchild. These were some of the audio stories told at this year’s Pod-a-palooza, the final event of the Podcast-a-thon, on the first Friday in March.

Journalism at Denison celebrated its sixth annual Podcast-a-thon with the biggest listening party turnout to date. With 124 participants, 88 student projects, and 7 participating classes across disciplines, competition was steep to take home the grand prize of “the Buzzy.” An homage to Denison’s unofficial mascot, the coveted grand champion trophy stood in the middle of a packed room of students and faculty anxiously awaiting the results of the competition.

The event wouldn’t be complete without a temporary tattoo station stocked with The Reporting Project logos and the adorable face of Figgy, visiting assistant professor Doug Swift’s dog, and the journalism program’s self-proclaimed mascot.

Emcee and audio mentor Clare Roth took the mic to kick off the event and express what made this year’s audio stories stand out.

“I have been part of this competition since its first year, and it’s no understatement to say this year has the best podcasts I’ve heard yet,” said Roth, managing editor of The Ohio Newsroom, a public radio collaborative that focuses news coverage on underserved rural areas. “I’m blown away by the creativity, by the curiosity, and by the storytelling in this year’s entries.”

Roth, along with Jocelyn Robinson, director of radio preservation and archives at WYSO, and Jesse Dukes, writer and radio producer, had the opportunity to mentor students as they prepared their final submissions and saw many good stories transform into great ones.

Dukes applauded students on their work. “I can tell the students are working harder than ever, and they’ve learned a lot about audio storytelling,” she said. “There is some real creativity, insight, empathy, and hard work on display.”

Submissions this year varied greatly, highlighting everything from the economics of harm reduction to family dynamics and thoughtful reflections in nature.

Ultimately, the Buzzy grand prize, as well as the people’s choice award, went to senior Sophia Sabota for her story “Brain Injury Resulting from Violence: An Important Conversation with Dr. Eve Valera.” As part of professor Heather Rhodes’ neuroscience senior capstone, Sabota’s story highlights how Valera’s discoveries working with survivors of domestic violence led her to call for action and further research on the invisible epidemic of brain injury as a result of violence. Valera is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital who has set the pace in the emerging field of brain injury resulting from intimate-partner violence.

An honorable mention was awarded to Katie Houpt ’26 and Molly Way ’27 from professor of practice Alan Miller’s journalism ethics course for “Virgina Heffernan: Tina’s Tale,” about a dilemma that Heffernan faced as a journalist while writing a profile on Tina Fey. A second honorable mention was given to Lindsey Urban ’26, Clare Elden ’25, and Sydney Schlatter ’27 from professor Erik Klemetti’s earth science course for “Under the Sea: The Geologic Tale of the Edmund Fitzgerald,” where they dig into the geology behind Gordon Lightfoot’s hit song from the 70s about the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The Community Participant category winner was student Laura Joelsson ’24 for “Exploring Relationships Through Nature.” The podcast features Sarah Carpenter ‘24 and her step-grandfather, Peter Gilbertson, talking about their experiences with nature. Laura is a double major in environmental studies and journalism and says she is always looking for ways to combine those subjects.

This event was made possible by a generous grant from the Mellon Foundation and a gift from Sue Douthit O’Donnell ’67.

Listen to the four winning student-created audio stories.

Buzzy Grand Champion 

Brain Injury Resulting from Violence: An Important Conversation with Dr. Eve Valera”

by Sophia Sabota ‘24

for Heather Rhodes’ neuroscience senior capstone

Honorable Mention 

Virgina Heffernan: Tina’s Tale

by Katie Houpt ’26 and Molly Way ’27

for Alan Miller’s journalism ethics course

Honorable Mention 

Under the Sea: The Geologic Tale of the Edmund Fitzgerald

by Lindsey Urban ’26, Clare Elden ’25 and Sydney Schlatter ’27

for Erik Klemetti’s earth science course

Community Participant Category Winner 

“Exploring Relationships Through Nature”

by Laura Joelsson ’24

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