First-Generation College Student Wins Journalism Prize From The Chronicle

September 16, 2013

The Chronicle has named Jake New, a senior majoring in journalism at Indiana University at Bloomington and a first-generation college student, as the winner of its 2013 David W. Miller Award for Young Journalists.

Mr. New won the $3,000 prize for three articles published in The Chronicle during his spring internship here. In making its selection, the Miller Award Committee cited Mr. New's thoroughness in reporting, his careful attention to detail, and his ability to pull in the reader by weaving complex topics into a coherent narrative thread.

The first article looked at the legacy of Aaron H. Swartz, the computer prodigy and open-access advocate who committed suicide in January at age 26. Mr. Swartz was facing up to 35 years in prison and $1-million in fines on federal charges of burglarizing a computer-wiring closet at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and illegally downloading millions of scholarly articles from the nonprofit journal archive JSTOR.

At a memorial service here for Mr. Swartz, Mr. New was contemplating the programmer's legacy when, suddenly, "a piece of theater" brought the story into sharp focus: Mourners began angrily shouting down a speaker who had said that while Congress should ease penalties for those who violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, he did not condone Mr. Swartz's alleged crimes. Mr. New recalled his thinking at the time: "I really got a sense of the way there was this struggle to define what his legacy would be, whether it would just be redefining cybercrime law or whether he was going to become an open-access hero."

The second article was not the type of assignment that most newspapers would typically hand to an intern: A scholarly publisher with a litigious history had slapped a blogger and college librarian with a pair of libel lawsuits seeking $4-million. Indeed, Herbert W. Richardson, founder of Edwin Mellen Press, had already twice threatened to sue The Chronicle over reader comments in the Web site's Forums section.

But Mr. New had earned his editors' confidence by closely following Mr. Richardson's footprints through the courts. Eventually Mr. New landed a 21/2-hour interview with the publisher, who had for weeks been declining invitations to talk. In the article, Mr. New drew a portrait of a man who cast himself as the victim of bullying by the academic establishment and who also used the threat of lawsuits to silence those who disagreed with him. In the end Mr. Richardson wrote a letter to The Chronicle saying that Mr. New had treated him with professional courtesy and written an article that was fair.

The third article followed a familiar theme for Mr. New. It was another piece about a publisher suing a college librarian and blogger for alleged defamation. In this case, though, the publisher was in India, the requested damages were a whopping $1-billion, and Mr. New had only a day to report and file the article after receiving documentation of the lawsuit.

The OMICS Publishing Group was suing Jeffrey Beall, a metadata librarian at the University of Colorado at Denver who operates the Scholarly Open Access blog. Mr. Beall had listed OMICS among more than 250 publishers that he considers to be "potential, possible, or probable predatory" companies. Because India was several time zones ahead, Mr. New made his calls quickly and confirmed the specifics of the lawsuit with a lawyer there who represented OMICS. He reached Mr. Beall and filed a lively and detailed article that attracted more than 150 reader comments.

The Miller Award commemorates David W. Miller, a senior writer at The Chronicle who was killed in 2002 by a drunken driver. Mr. Miller, who was 35, was returning from a reporting assignment and was survived by his widow and two young sons.

With the award, The Chronicle seeks to both highlight Mr. Miller's insistence on responsible journalism, his curiosity, and his commitment to great writing, and to recognize and encourage those same qualities in young journalists. The prize is given annually to a recent Chronicle intern.

Mr. New describes himself as "ostensibly from Indiana," having moved there at age 12. His father, an Indiana native, was in the Navy, and his mother grew up outside Liverpool, England. Today Mr. New works as an assistant editor for eCampus News, a Web publication that covers higher-education technology. At Indiana University he was editor in chief of the Indiana Daily Student during the summer of 2012, and as a reporter there he enjoyed writing crime narratives.

He plans to make his career in journalism and is interested in how technology can be used to help make education more accessible to first-generation college students such as himself.

Mr. New said the Miller Award and the accompanying $3,000 prize came as welcome news.

"I'm actually moving this weekend and have a deposit to pay," he said. "This is very good timing."