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SPJ Honors Lydia Chavez with Distinguished Teaching Award

For Immediate Release:

Heather Porter, Programs Coordinator, (317) 927-8000, ext. 204,
Alyson Ahrns, SPJ Communications Department, (317) 927-8000, ext. 200,

INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is pleased to honor Lydia Chavez with the Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award.

Chavez became the second tenured Latina at a major American journalism school when she received tenure in 1997. She joined the UC Berkeley faculty seven years earlier in 1990, turning down job offers from Columbia and New York University. At the university, Chavez teaches Journalism 200, which is considered “boot camp” for entering students, international reporting and courses on civil rights decision and ethnic community reporting.

Due to the leadership, knowledge and honesty Chavez has shared through these courses, both past and present students credit her for making them better reporters.

“Her methodical teaching style built skill upon skill,” Sindya Bhanoo, a past student of Chavez, wrote in her recommendation letter. “She would point out what didn’t work in our writing, explain why and tell us how it could be fixed. She spotted the loopholes in our reporting and sent us back to the streets to fill in the blanks. ‘This is your work,’ she would say. ‘Make sure you’re proud of it.’”

Some students even chose to attend UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism specifically to work with Chavez. After reading her first book, “The Color Blind” as an undergraduate, former student Angélica Marín said she was “blown away by her (Chavez) in-depth reporting and thoughtful approach to controversial issues such as affirmative action.”

Chavez has also helped her students accomplish things that seem out of reach for an aspiring journalist, such as being published on the front page of the New York Times. When Chavez’ former student David Gelles entered her introductory reporting class, he said he didn’t know how to write a lead or what a news peg was. Through Chavez’ direction, encouragement, editing and contacts, one of Gelles’ articles ran on the front page of the New York Times just five weeks after the class began.

“In the first five weeks of her class, I learned not only how to report and write a solid news story but also how to think and act like a serious reporter,” Gelles wrote in his recommendation letter. “I entered her class a neophyte and left a reporter.”

“It’s easy to teach well when you have superb students and inspiring colleagues,” Chavez said when asked for her reaction to winning the award. “And despite the chaos in the industry, with too many journalists being forced to feed the beast rather than to think and report, great models still exist — Glen Greenwald, Dana Priest, Anne Hull and Jason DeParle come to mind. The excellent work these and other reporters do, and the energy and passion my students have, give me hope that journalism won’t turn into a 24-hour cycle of trivia and uninformed opinion.”

The Distinguished Teaching in Journalism Award honors an outstanding journalism educator who has made a significant contribution to the profession and/or journalism education. Students, former students, alumni, colleagues and professionals may submit nominations. Nominees do not have to be members of SPJ.

Chavez will be recognized Friday, Sept. 5 during a luncheon at the 2008 SPJ Convention & National Journalism Conference in Atlanta.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit


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