Four Outstanding Young Journalists to be honored
Marking its commitment to recognize journalistic excellence each year, Missouri Press Association has selected four journalists from across the state to receive the William E. James Outstanding Young Journalist award.
Beth Durreman, president of MPA, announced Sophia Bales of Richmond, Greta Cross of Springfield, Allison Kite of Kansas City and Samantha Tucker of Poplar Bluff will receive their awards Sept. 23, in St. Louis, during the Association’s 157th Annual Convention and Trade Show awards luncheon.
“This is the 15th year for these awards and the 11th it has been named in honor of our late colleague, William E. James,” said Durreman, publisher of the Laclede County Record, Lebanon. “As we see a fundamental shift in how our profession operates, Missouri Press believes it is critical to recognize and celebrate young talent at every opportunity.
“This year, we’re recognizing four individuals, two from daily newspapers, one from a weekly and another whose work with a web-based media outlet benefits all of Missouri Press’ members,” Durreman said. “The Missouri Press Association recognizes Sophia, Greta, Allison and Samantha for their excellent news reporting, reader engagement and a dedication to holding to account those in power.”
The first experience Sophia Bales had with newspapers was in May 2022, fresh out of Missouri Valley College with a degree in entrepreneurship. Having started her own bounce house business (that continues to thrive) in high school and at the same time competed as a state powerlifter, Bales showed early on she was motivated and willing to put in the work that local journalism requires.
“She had no previous journalism experience but threw herself into the role and has never looked back,” wrote General Manager Sharon Donat in Bales’ nomination letter. “There is not an assignment she won’t tackle, from community events to drug busts. Sophia is not afraid to ask questions, do the research and get the complete story.”
As the Richmond News’ only full-time reporter, Bales is tasked each week with ensuring the newspaper is full of content. She is also an assistant coach for a new powerlifting team in nearby Lexington.
Bales is always striving to learn and help others at the newspaper, Donat wrote, and the young reporter’s growth has been “truly amazing and we are all very proud of her progress.”
“Sophia’s personality could fill a gymnasium and then some. She is the light of our office, as well as the community in which she works,” Donat added. “I believe the best journalists immerse themselves in their work and the communities they serve. Ray County citizens, community leaders and law enforcement have all embraced her and share stories and news with her on a regular basis.”
Greta Cross joined the Springfield News-Leader in January 2022, but it was her experience as editor-in-chief of The Standard, Missouri State University’s student-run newspaper that helped her stand out when being considered for a professional position.
“Taking the reins in May 2020, she got to captain the ship as The Standard navigated the pandemic and transitioned from a weekly print publication to a digital-only news operation (with a remote newsroom, to boot),” wrote Editor Amos Bridges in Cross’ nomination letter. “For Greta, that was not a defeat but a challenge, and over the following year she guided the 50-plus student staff as they implemented and designed weekly newsletters and launched a podcast series.”
Bridges said Cross brought her intrepidity and passion to the News-Leader, where she has served the last year as the newspaper’s Trending Topics reporter. In her first year she’s written about Black film students’ efforts to capture college life in a web series, the history of Springfield’s drag scene, and a 90-year-old homeless man’s journey toward stability. Along the way she catalogued corners of the wider Ozarks, as well, telling stories from Joplin and Cassville, all the way over to Shannon County.
“A lesser reporter might settle for chasing stories that are already generating buzz, but Greta took seriously her editors’ challenge to seek out the under-represented corners of our community and tell their stories, too,” Bridges wrote. “Here’s some of the highest praise I can offer: Numerous retired journalists from the Springfield community — folks like long-time editor Mike O’Brien, and Missouri Photojournalism Hall of Famer Bob Linder — have made a point of reaching out with compliments.”
From Allison Kite’s first days covering one of the state’s biggest political stories in recent history, she has established herself as a dynamo in government reporting, both for The Kansas City Star and now with the Missouri Independent.
Independent Editor Jason Hancock recalled Kite being dispatched to Jefferson City in spring 2018 just days after being hired as a business reporter for The Star.
“The impeachment of Gov. Eric Greitens was in full swing, and the statehouse bureau was drowning in the deluge of news,” Hancock wrote in his nomination letter. “Allison agreed to parachute in to help, and it didn’t take long for her to establish herself as a force in state government journalism. That was my first opportunity to work with Allison, but over the next few years I got to witness up close her sharp news instincts, dazzling writing skills and dogged reporting.”
After the launch of the Missouri Independent in 2020, Hancock said he made it a goal to get Kite on the statewide news outlet’s team. She finally joined in 2021.
“She has a talent for seeing all the moving parts of a story and translating often technically dense topics into compelling prose for our readers. A fearless reporter, she isn’t afraid of tackling big stories, and has a knack for juggling daily news and long-term enterprise,” Hancock wrote. “Just last year, she conceived of and spearheaded our Unleaded project in collaboration with NPR’s Midwest Newsroom, a multi-part investigation of high levels of lead in children in Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.”
Kite’s work as the Independent’s data reporter adds value to her colleagues’ coverage, Hancock wrote, but she is also “a wonderful coworker, bringing enthusiasm to everything she does and a level of energy to our staff that is impossible to put a value on.”
Believing in the mission of community journalism to inform and support a newspaper’s readership, Samantha Tucker has proven time and again through her coverage that local reporting makes a difference in people’s lives. Her dedication to entertain and educate readers has taken her from paginator and reporter at her hometown newspaper to assistant editor of the Daily American Republic in Poplar Bluff.
Tucker joined the five-day-a-week DAR in September 2021 as a reporter, a stark contrast to the eastern Illinois weekly The Prairie Press where she got her journalism start in 2017. “She has taken on every task with both enthusiasm and skill,” wrote Editor Donna Farley in Tucker’s nomination letter.
“Samantha brings the same level of dedication to every story, whether it’s trial coverage of a former county coroner accused of business fraud or a photojournalism assignment to cover an upcoming community play,” Farley continued.
Tucker took on newsroom leadership duties in 2022, working to help the newspaper develop new strategies for engaging the community and helping co-workers learn new tasks. She has also embraced her new southeast Missouri home by volunteering and by ensuring her work has tangible benefits for the people she covers.
“In the community, Samantha volunteers with the local animal shelter and helps set the example of the community-minded spirit we write about,” Farley’s letter states. “Her articles have helped save a local community theatre group’s production from closing, raise money for many worthy causes, inform our community on election, government and criminal investigations, and celebrate the many good things that happen in our area.”
Winners of the William E. James Outstanding Young Journalist Award have demonstrated excellence in the field of journalism and maintained the quality, ethics and standards of The Journalist’s Creed, written by Walter Williams, founding dean of the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
During the Missouri Press Foundation Better Newspaper Contest awards luncheon, Sept. 23, at the Sheraton Westport Chalet Hotel in St. Louis, winners will be presented a plaque and a $500 check.
Editors or publishers submit nominations for the awards and nominees must have been younger than 30 years old on Jan. 1, 2023. The aim of the award is to reinforce the importance of a journalist’s role by recognizing and nurturing talent to further promote quality journalism.
William E. “Bill” James, the namesake for this award, served as publisher of the Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal from November 2007 until his death in November 2013. He was publisher of the Cass County Democrat-Missourian in Harrisonville from 1985 to 2000 and was president of the Missouri Press Association in 1998. He was inducted into the MPA Newspaper Hall of Fame in 2001.
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