May 052009
Authors: Aaron Montoya

Stories documenting the controversial tenures of former CSU President Larry Penley and former CSU Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough and their subsequent resignations this past year earned two Collegian journalists a national award and $5,000 Tuesday.

J. David McSwane, a senior journalism major, and Aaron Hedge, a senior English major, were informed via e-mail that they had beaten out about 240 entries from college journalists around the nation, including such schools as the University of Georgia, and were selected as the first place team in the Robert Novak Collegiate Journalism Award competition.

“It’s nice to get recognition for something we really busted our asses on,” McSwane said, noting the sleepless nights he and Hedge endured to get and follow the stories. He also noted that the two faced much skepticism when some of the first Penley articles were published.

“It’s reassuring to know that what it really takes to do good journalism is attitude, elbow grease,” McSwane said.

“And some cojones,” Hedge added.

The two will split the $5,000 and will travel to Washington, D.C. in June to receive the award at a ceremony to be held at the National Press Club during which the likes of The Wall Street Journal will also be awarded.

The two took the top spot, “hands down. No ifs, ands or buts,” Joseph Starrs said.

Starrs, the director of the Institute on Political Journalism, which bestows the award, called the team’s work “on par with the best in the professional world.”

He noted that it is unusual for the judges to come to the table with a unanimous decision on the winner and said the award isn’t usually given to more than one reporter.

The three judges, editors from The Dallas Morning News, The Washington Examiner and The Weekly Standard Magazine, had no arguments as to which entry should win, Starrs said.

“McSwane and Hedge consistently hold high-profile university officials accountable for their questionable conduct in stories that are meticulously documented, triple-checked and supplemented with audio and documents,” a judge said in a statement.

“I was especially impressed with the ‘investigation methodology’ . which showed how careful the paper was in confirming facts and sources. These stories had a profound impact on the CSU community and embody the sort of campus watchdog journalism we should be encouraging this award.”

Starrs, who has been the director of the IPJ for three years, agreed.

“When it comes to the nuts and bolts of putting together a story and adhering to journalistic principles, they did that and more,” Starrs said.

Holly Wolcott, the news advisor for the Collegian, was extremely proud of the pair.

“As a former professional reporter that did a lot of in-depth work, some of the investigations they did rise to the level of the best journalism I’ve seen,” Wolcott said.

Larry Steward, the president of the Rocky Mountain Student Media Corporation, the Collegian’s parent company, was also proud.

“It’s really very amazing and reflects extremely well on the students that work in all the (student) media,” Steward said.

Greg Luft, the chair of the journalism department at CSU, was delighted at the pairs’ success, noting earlier controversies in which the Collegian has been involved.

“Considering all the controversy, it’s really good to see they’ve done well,” Luft said.

When asked about their upcoming trip to the capital, the two donned grins.

“Should I say it?” Hedge asked.

“I hear D.C. has some nice bars,” McSwane answered.

Editor-in-Chief Aaron Montoya can be reached at

Past Collegian articles about Penley and Yarbrough

Penley out of contention for University of Idaho presidency

CSU Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough’s leave followed sexual harassment complaint

CSUPD Chief resigns

Penley a top contender for president at University of Idaho

Embattled Chief faces CBI probe

Abuse of power

Suspended Chief refutes allegations

BOG won’t review group’s grievances

Secret CSU group urges Penley investigation

No new information on Penley’s severance pay [DOCUMENT]

Many skeptical of Penley’s abrupt resignation

Penley resigns [VIDEO]

Student leaders initiate financial oversight committee

Amid overhaul, key CSU auditors departed

CSU admin sees hefty budget, salary increases

Tuition, state dollars diverted to research

A hefty investment: Research Superclusters draw visibility, critics

Penley to delegate authority, focus on fundraising

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