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Journalism students, faculty win award for traffic legislation coverage

Nov 6, 2020

Posted in: News

By Ebonique Little, Communications Intern

No action of the Virginia General Assembly goes unnoticed with the VCU Capital News Service. On Oct. 23, the group won an award for its coverage of bills related to drunk driving and Virginia legislation surrounding the topic. 

The Washington Regional Alcohol Program (WRAP) — a public-private nonprofit organization working to prevent drunk driving and underage drinking in the Washington-metropolitan area — recognized Capital News Service as their 2020 Media Partnership Award recipient for its reporting. 

“We are honored and thrilled to accept this WRAP award,” said Alix Bryan-Campos, journalism instructor and co-director of Capital News Service. “We always tell students to consider impact when reporting, and many of these stories greatly affect the daily lives of Virginia residents.”

With WRAP’s 2020 Annual Meeting and WRAPPY Awards Ceremony, the organization celebrated 38 years of voicing concerns on drunk driving and underage drinking. The award ceremony, which was held via Zoom, honored Capital News Service for “their commitment to the fight against drunk driving,” with some other awards granted to organizations like Anheuser-Busch, Geico and Lyft.

 

“Journalists are impartial about a lot of things, like politics,” former Capital News Service director Jeff South said at the event, “but there are issues like traffic safety that reporters are proud to advocate for.”

Over the years, president and CEO of WRAP Kurt Erickson has given Capital News Service story ideas, which the program’s students eagerly accept. 

Since its establishment in 1994, their work has highlighted the Virginia General Assembly and provides citizens with better access to the legislature by distributing stories, photos and other content to over 100 media outlets. Traffic safety and drunk driving issue-based stories are frequently promoted for their clients.

As Capital News Service operates as a three-credit course in which journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia, Bryan-Campos and co-director Veronica Garabelli work with students at every step of the process to get students’ work published on tight deadlines by sharing news tips, directing them to sources and editing their drafts.

Under South’s previous leadership, the most widely distributed article in helping win the WRAP award was written in 2018 by Robertson School alum Jessica Wetzler, who now works for Harrisonburg’s Daily News-Record. 

Acting on a tip from WRAP, Wetzler broke the news that the Virginia Senate had quietly passed a bill allowing Virginians to lawfully drive while intoxicated on their own property. More than 60 news outlets across the country published the story, including USA Today

“When I saw that USA Today picked up the story,” Wetzler said, “I probably cried.”

Virginia lawmakers faced backlash, ultimately leading them to kill the legislation. 

“Every January I look forward to seeing if that bill gets brought back during the next session, so I can continue my coverage on the issue,” Wetzler said. 

Wetzler’s follow-up story also garnered attention, distributed by the Associated Press and appearing in The Washington Post among other leading newspapers. 

“I hoped it would be picked up by some type of news outlet,” Wetzler said, “but I never imagined it would get the kind of circulation it did.”

Further pointing to WRAP’s mission, other published stories from Capital News Service students include coverage on efforts to allow undocumented immigrants to obtain a driver’s license shared by WTKR, as well as a Fauquier Now story regarding the ban of handheld devices while driving.

“The VCU faculty members who’ve led CNS in recent years — Alix Bryan, Veronica Garabelli and I — are honored to accept the WRAP Media Partnership Award on behalf of young journalists like Jessica Wetzler and everyone associated with Capital News Service,” South said.