Spartan Daily Establishes Legacy of Award-Winning Journalism

by | Jun 20, 2023 | Awards and Achievements

San José State’s newspaper, Spartan Daily, has won a number of national and statewide awards in recent years. Photo courtesy of Richard Craig.

It stands to reason that the advisor of San José State University’s college newspaper, Spartan Daily, is a storyteller. To ask Richard Craig, professor of journalism and mass communications since 2000 and newspaper advisor for more than 20 years, to identify one standout student or story is, essentially, impossible. His pride for his students and their accomplishments bursts at the seams, and this year there’s even more reason to celebrate.

Earlier this spring, the California News Publishers Association (CNPA) named Spartan Daily the best campus newspaper in California as part of its annual California Journalism Awards competition — for the second consecutive year and the third time in four years. The publication, which is entirely student-edited and student-run, also won best college newspaper in the California College Media Association (CCMA) contest in March. This recognition is no small feat, Craig says, considering that the Spartan Daily regularly competes against giants like USC’s Daily Trojan, UCLA’s The Daily Bruin, UC Berkeley’s Daily Cal and others — collegiate publications that often boast staffs of 100+ students to the Spartan Daily’s 20-30. 

To what does he credit the paper’s success?

While he’s proud of the daily reporting produced by Spartans enrolled in his Journalism 140B course, Craig is especially impressed by the way editors, writers and photographers alike have sunk their teeth into meatier, more substantive features.

“We’ve tried to create a culture where students feel like they can take chances,” says Craig, who first took the reins in 2002.

“With daily news, we send our people out to find out the who, what, when and where and share that with the campus,” he says. “But we didn’t always get much of a chance to look at the why of a story. Why did this happen? What led to this? We’ve leaned more heavily into writing special issues.”

In recent years, Spartan Daily editorial teams have produced at least one special issue dedicated to a single subject per semester. Students regularly wade into timely and sometimes controversial topics, ranging from housing to sexuality, mental health and impostor syndrome. Editors collaborate closely with writers, designers and photographers, meeting with Craig and production manager Mike Corpos, ’02 Journalism, ’22 MS Mass Communications, for daily critiques on previously published material. The process privileges accuracy, style and newsworthiness and is designed to prepare students for newsrooms beyond Dwight Bentel Hall.

Spartan reporters prepped for the real world

California College Media Association award for Best Newspaper in 2020

The Spartan Daily staff won the California College Media Association award for Best Newspaper in 2020 and 2023. Here, members of the 2020 award-winning team celebrates with production manager Mike Corpos (center). Photo courtesy of Richard Craig.

Spartan Daily alumni appear on most Bay Area television channels, as well as print and digital publications. Even those who graduated in the height of the pandemic are finding success at major news outlets. San José Mercury News breaking news reporter Austin Turner, ’20 Journalism, says his final semester with Spartan Daily offered better career preparation than he could have imagined.

Turner moved back to his hometown of Riverside for what he’d expected to be a two-week spring break, not realizing that he’d have to indefinitely adapt his editorial skills for a virtual world. Together with Craig, Corpos and the rest of the staff, learned how to produce daily papers without newsprint, relying on Zoom meetings and late nights learning new software to distribute news to his peers. While the learning curve was sharp, Turner attributes his post-graduation success to those first few experimental months, when he, like so many journalists worldwide, learned how to share the news as it unfolded in real time.

“That spring 2020 semester was so helpful to me in my professional career, because I had to navigate something that nobody on planet Earth knew how to navigate at the time, especially journalists,” he recalls. 

“Having such a great group of people around me helped me flourish,” he says. “Richard Craig’s insights every day through our daily critique instilled a philosophy of building someone up instead of building someone down. Though it was an extreme set of circumstances that we had to deal with, I can’t think of anything else that helped me more as a journalist in my early career.”

The proof is in the pudding: Throughout its nearly 90-year history, eight alumni journalists have won Pulitzer Prizes — most recently, Associated Press California Photo Editor Marcio Sanchez, ’07 Photojournalism. This doesn’t count the more than 30 national journalism awards and 120 state awards earned by Spartan Daily editorial teams since 2015.

“We’ve managed to consistently produce as good a student news outlet as any in California, and arguably in the country,” says Craig. “And it’s not because of me or any other faculty. It’s because our students work their tails off. We have shown them what’s possible and we’ve watched them take full advantage.”

Check out the Spartan Daily digital archives through Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library’s Special Collections to access decades of SJSU history.