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College of Media students receive regional SPJ awards

A group of students in a television news studio

The WVU Reed College of Media’s three student-produced newscasts — “WVU News,” “West Virginia Today” and “Mountaineer Playbook” — all received Region 4 Mark of Excellence Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

SPJ is the nation’s oldest journalism organization, and the annual Mark of Excellence awards recognize the best in collegiate print, radio, television and online news. First-place winners from Region 4, which includes Michigan, Ohio, Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia, go on to compete at the national level among other Mark of Excellence winners from the 12 SPJ regions. WVU placed first in four categories.

Lara Bonatesta won in the Television Breaking News Reporting category for her story “Local protesters stand up to abortion restrictions” on “West Virginia Today,” the public affairs television show that was added to the broadcast news curriculum last fall.

“‘West Virginia Today’ was incredible to be a part of,” said Bonatesta. “The experience taught me how to be a better journalist, videographer and person. I’m so grateful to be recognized for my work covering the abortion protest. As a public affairs show, we often focused on statewide issues, but this story let me show our audience how state and national decisions affected our campus community.”

Ben Machi was recognized in the Television Sports Reporting category for his piece, “WVU Reed College of Media student becomes Mountaineer mascot,” on “Mountaineer Playbook,” the College’s capstone course for Sports and Adventure media majors.

“I’m thrilled to have been chosen as a regional SPJ winner,” said Machi. “‘Mountaineer Playbook’ was really my first crack at creating video stories, but Professors Chuck Scatterday and Gina Dahlia and graduate assistant Gillian Wanosky really helped me find my creative side.”

In addition, “WVU News” won in Best All-Around Television Newscast, and “West Virginia Today” won in Best All-Around Television News Magazine.

The West Virginia Today newscast“WVU News” and “West Virginia Today” are co-taught by Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and Teaching Professor Gina Dahlia and Teaching Assistant Professor Ashton Marra.

"This recognition for ‘West Virginia Today’ is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our students in covering rural communities in this state,” said Marra. “Whether their focus is to celebrate the successes of West Virginia or focus on the personal, they committed themselves to spend the time they needed to travel to new places and build relationships to put together a truly meaningful news program."

In addition to these first-place winners, the College of Media newscasts placed as finalists in the following categories:

  • Television Breaking News Reporting: “WVU tennis star hits the court to prepare for Martha Thorn Invitational” by Ben Machi for “Mountaineer Playbook”
  • Television General News Reporting: “COVID-19 vaccines become available to children” by Jessica Riley for “WVU News”
  • Television Feature Reporting: “The U.S. gears up for spring break travel as new COVID-19 strains emerge” by Jessica Riley for “WVU News” and “WVU's Mountaineer Week celebrates Appalachian culture through axe throwing” by Michael Gourley for “Mountaineer Playbook”
  • Television In-Depth Reporting: “West Virginians seek addiction help through peer recovery” by Lara Bonatesta for “West Virginia Today”
  • Television Sports Reporting: “Lifelong WVU fan achieves dream of playing for the Gold and Blue” by Zippy Zimmerman for “Mountaineer Playbook”

Visit for a full list of student awards. Past episodes of “WVU News,” “West Virginia Today” and “Mountaineer Playbook” can be viewed at