Viola Flowers, a rising junior journalism major, has won a Hearst Award for investigative journalism for a story she wrote for the Riverhead News-Review.
This is the first time a Stony Brook student has won an investigative journalism Hearst Award, and one of the first times a student won for reporting at a professional media outlet.
“Viola has distinguished herself as an exceptional journalist, and this Hearst award is the latest recognition of her hard work and her talent,” said Laura Lindenfeld, dean of the School of Communication and Journalism and executive director of the Alda Center for Communicating Science. “These awards mean so much to our individual students and to our reputation as a School that educates future media professionals to help create a fairer, more just, more rational world.”
Flowers’ piece, “No foul play suspected: What happens when a teenager runs away from Riverhead’s Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch?,” placed among the top 20 pieces submitted nationwide in the category.
The piece ran on the front page of the News-Review and helped the weekly newspaper win third place for Best Coverage of Crime/Police/Courts from the New York Press Association.
Flowers, of Waterbury, Connecticut, wrote it during a summer internship at the newspaper, where she wrote other stories about community leaders, changes to the town of Riverhead and ocean acidification. When she found out how many children had gone missing from Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch, she decided to do more digging. Ultimately, she combed through hundreds of police reports and visited the station to check up on individual cases to see which of the missing children hadn’t yet been found, if any.
“This story was the most important thing I’ve ever written,” said Flowers. “While I’m deeply appreciative of the recognition for my work, what matters most to me is that this story has a wider reach than I could’ve imagined. For esteemed journalists to be reading this story, getting a glimpse of the sad realities adolescents face in the mental health care system — whether at the hands of facilities or otherwise — it’s a critical topic.”
She will continue her work on the story for her senior capstone project. The project, and those of several other students, will be supported in part by the MJS Foundation.
This is the second significant journalism award Flowers won this year. She was one of 18 students from around the country to win a scholarship from the Overseas Press Club Foundation. She is the first Stony Brook student to win the award.
The internship with the Riverhead newspaper was Flowers’ first internship, but not her last. This spring, she also completed an internship with NBC Nightly News. She is the editor-in-chief of The Statesman and president of the Stony Brook student blood drive committee.
Students from the School of Communication and Journalism win Hearst journalism competitions fairly often. Every month, the Hearst Journalism Awards Foundation recognizes up to 20 students in a variety of categories. To be eligible, students’ work must be published in campus media or a professional outlet, and they must be enrolled in a journalism program accredited by the Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. Flowers is one of three students this academic year to receive an award.