Special Reports

U. of Mississippi Alumna Wins Chronicle’s Miller Award for Young Journalists

October 03, 2017

Clara Turnage, who graduated from the University of Mississippi in May, has won The Chronicle’s 2017 David W. Miller Award for Young Journalists, which is presented annually to the top intern who worked at The Chronicle during the previous year.

The $3,000 award, now in its 15th year, recognizes Ms. Turnage for articles she wrote during her internship this past summer. She is now a reporter at The Natchez Democrat, in Natchez, Miss., where she covers education and crime.

Members of the committee that chose Ms. Turnage for the award cited her for the diversity of the three articles she had submitted for consideration, showing her talent for breaking-news, enterprise, and investigative journalism. Committee members also noted her writing style, marked by vivid language, a strong sense of structure and tempo, and, in one case, a willingness to simply let documents speak for themselves.

One article, filed from Charlottesville, Va., described the violence that struck the University of Virginia’s hometown when white supremacists, gathering for a rally, clashed with counterprotesters over plans to remove the statue of a Confederate general.

Ms. Turnage had traveled to Charlottesville to report for a different article, but she quickly shifted from that story to the one unfolding in the streets. She not only filed a series of lucid dispatches under deadline pressure but also took photographs, including one showing a balding counterprotester, carrying a cane and an umbrella, who is sprawled on the ground as he is beaten by club-wielding young toughs.

The award commemorates David W. Miller, a senior writer who was killed by a drunken driver while returning home from a reporting trip.
She was also recognized for a lengthy article exploring why the provost of Texas A&M University at College Station had been fired, in July. The answer was not clear. Among the possible reasons were an audit report that found a possible conflict of interest involving the provost’s spouse, a difference of opinion between the provost and the chancellor, and mysterious "enemies" at the university.

Ms. Turnage pursued the story tenaciously and provided The Chronicle’s reader with hints even as a definitive answer eluded her. The committee said she must have walked a legal tightrope in trying to find out what had happened, and had structured the story so as to sustain readers’ interest until the end.

Finally, she was honored for an article about the unusually difficult mental-health challenges facing international students on American campuses. Many such students, taking pressure-packed course schedules and coming from cultures that still stigmatize mental illness or even regard it as fiction, are reluctant to seek help.

She handled this sensitive topic, in part, by winning the confidence of a Chinese student who was recovering from depression and anxiety and who was willing to provide a window into her struggles. The article also described how colleges are trying to help such students. In an interview, Ms. Turnage called this story "the highlight" of her internship.

While a student, Ms. Turnage worked at The Daily Mississippian, the student newspaper, rising to editor in chief. She majored in journalism, with a minor in computer science.

She says she likes working now at The Natchez Democrat, where she writes two to four articles a day, because of "the impact of a community newspaper on its city." Community newspapers’ personal contact with local people results in better journalism than can usually be gleaned from telephone interviews, she says.

The Miller Award commemorates David W. Miller, a senior writer at The Chronicle who was killed in 2002 by a drunken driver while returning home from a reporting trip. Mr. Miller, who was 35, left a wife and two young children.

In presenting the award, the Chronicle committee seeks to identify promising young journalists who exemplify the traits and values that Mr. Miller brought to his journalism: a passion for people and ideas, a zeal for good writing, and a commitment to balance and fairness.