​Memphis college journalist honored with Holland Award for public-records reporting

July 29, 2015   
Contact: Frank LoMonte, Executive Director
director@splc.org or 202-872-1704

For a string of stories include investigations of sorority hazing and faculty pay inequities, Jonathan Capriel of The Daily Helmsman at the University of Memphis is the 2014-15 winner of the Betty Gage Holland Award for excellence in college reporting. 

The Holland Award recognizes campus journalists and their publications for distinguished service to honor and protect the integrity of public dialogue on America’s college campuses. The award is presented by the James M. Cox Jr. Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Student Press Law Center.

Frank LoMonte, executive director of the SPLC, described Capriel’s work as “in the best tradition of the inquisitive accountability journalism that all communities need.”

“His body of work for the Helmsman exemplifies the ethic that gives journalism its unique, irreplaceable value. He takes the time to learn and explain his subject, he pushes back hard against the slammed door, and he skeptically questions every claim that’s too good to be true,” LoMonte said.  

During the past year, Capriel has been the lead author on Helmsman stories that include:

  • Using state salary data to show that the University of Memphis paid female full professors an average of 86 cents for every dollar a male professor made, nearly $16,000 less per year than the average of their male counterparts.
  • Detailing a violent sorority hazing episode that the University had tried to keep secret, in which a pledge required hospital care for a broken nose after a sorority alumna struck her during an initiation ritual.
  • Exposing a consumer rip-off at the University that resulted in more than 2,000 online-only students being forced to buy the same parking permit as campus resident students, regardless of whether they ever planned to drive on the premises.

“Capriel exemplifies persistent, creative pursuit of the truth, seeking information from clerks, legal counsel, students and documents,” said Kent Middleton, director of the Cox Institute, adding that judges were impressed with Capriel’s straightforward writing style and inventive use of graphics to make his stories more visually compelling.

Candace Justice, general manager of the Helmsman, said Capriel goes above and beyond what is required of him, often working on stories over holiday and summer breaks.

“Of all the award-winning reporters I have worked with over my 22 years as adviser to The Daily Helmsman, I have never had one as utterly devoted to the public’s right to know as Jonathan Capriel,” she wrote in nominating him.

Capriel will receive a $1,000 award and The Daily Helmsman also will receive $1,000 as the sponsor publication. The annual award honors the late Betty Gage Holland, long-time friend of journalism education at Grady College. It was presented at the University of Georgia this week during the 20th annual Management Seminar for College for College News Editors.

The Student Press Law Center is an advocate for student First Amendment rights, for freedom of online speech and for open government on campus. The SPLC provides information, training and legal assistance at no charge to student journalists and the educators who work with them. The SPLC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded in 1974 and based in Washington, D.C.

The Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership prepares students and professionals for leadership roles in the news media. It is named for the late James M. Cox Jr., who headed Cox Enterprises and Cox Broadcasting Corporation from 1957 until 1974.