KACU, Abilene’s National Public Radio station, recently took home second place nationally for student newscasts from the Public Media Journalists Association (PMJA). Four full-time staff members manage station operations and oversee the students in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication at Abilene Christian University who serve as reporters and on-air hosts.
Heather Claborn, general manager of KACU, led her crew to receive the PMJA award as well as awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association. Recent ACU graduates Sheridan Wood (’23) and Paige Taylor (’23) won several individual awards, including:
Society of Professional Journalists
- Radio News Reporting – Winner: “San Antonio trees,” by Sheridan Wood
- Radio Feature – Winner: “Monarch butterflies migration,” by Sheridan Wood; Finalist: “Preserve Native American history,” by Sheridan Wood
- Radio In-Depth Reporting – Winner: “Ecology aftermath of widespread wildfires,” by Sheridan Wood
Texas Intercollegiate Press Association
- Feature Radio Reporting – first place: Sheridan Wood; second place: Paige Taylor
- General News Radio Reporting – first place: Sheridan Wood
- In-depth Radio Reporting – first place: Sheridan Wood; honorable mention: Sheridan Wood
“It is so exciting to see the hard work that our students do recognized because I think it really does reach levels beyond most college reporting I’ve seen elsewhere,” Claborn said.
For Claborn and KACU, this was the first time the station submitted entries to the PMJA. Claborn came to ACU in January 2018 as a news director and was promoted to general manager in September. She has collaborated with students to create a powerful local newscast, thanks to solid local reporting and a partnership with the larger NPR stations around Texas.
“We hear from folks who listen to public radio stations in different parts of the state or sometimes different parts of the U.S. and they report back to me that what we’re doing is really solid work, and I’m just really proud of KACU and our student staff,” Claborn said. “It’s not just about the awards because our students are really committed to serving our community first. We want to help our students learn and develop skills that will set them up for success when they leave college.”
Wood has reported on several national stories, and she recently returned from Europe where she provided content for NPR from Taghazout, Morocco, in a hostel when the earthquake struck the country in September. The town she was in was not heavily affected and no one was hurt; however, had the epicenter been any closer, the impact would have been far greater. The earthquake hit Oukaïmeden in western Morocco on Sept. 8 and more than 2,900 people were killed with 5,500 injured in the magnitude-6.8 earthquake.
“I could not go to sleep after the earthquake, and I was like, ‘Well, if I can’t sleep, I might as well do something,’” Wood said. “So I texted Heather and asked, ‘Do you think NPR would be interested in a little story from my time here?’ I was at least able to do something, and it was a cool experience.”
In addition to the national level, students have been featured statewide more than a dozen times in the last year on the Texas Standard. Claborn is working to create more opportunities for students to have their voices heard on the local, state and national levels to set students up for future success. Wood joined KACU in November 2021 and was encouraged by Claborn to write and report on environmental stories she was passionate about. Through the encouragement and support, Wood traveled for numerous stories and built rapport with reporters across the state.
“KACU was the most impactful experience of my college career,” Wood said. “It was really beneficial to do stories that were not just ACU-specific but were Abilene-specific and then Texas-specific and then national. All of those things were really important in making me be a journalist and not just a student journalist.”
Learn more about the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication.
— Connor Mullins
Nov. 29, 2023