March 19, 2010
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine:
SCJ names Rocket editor National Student Journalist of the Year
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - Josh Rizzo always loved newspapers. The editor-in-chief of The Rocket at Slippery Rock University recalls buying papers when his peers in grade school were collecting baseball cards and Hot Wheels.
"I used to buy both [Pittsburgh] papers when I was seven," said Rizzo of Irwin.
Rizzo has been named the 2010 Arthur H. Barlow National Student Journalist of the Year for his leadership of the SRU weekly that has a paid staff of 13 writers, designers and photographers. The Society of Collegiate Journalists award, which includes $500 award, honors a student journalist who advocates for freedom of expression. Rizzo guided The Rocket through an online expansion and the introduction of e-mailed breaking news stories.
"I was excited, not just for me, but because it is great for the paper too," Rizzo said.
SRU's Joseph Harry and Mark Zeltner, associate professors of communication, and Thomas Flynn, professor of communication, nominated Rizzo. Harry, who serves as Rocket adviser, said Rizzo showed sensitivity to all sides of stories and was willing to represent The Rocket at public meetings following controversial stories and cartoons.
He praised Rizzo for demonstrating "a well articulated sensitivity toward acknowledging the value of different viewpoints expressed on campus and a personal intellectual maturity in defending the media's inherent right to public, thought-provoking material."
While many newspapers are disappearing from the landscape, The Rocket has expanded editorial coverage to include communities near SRU and boasts a circulation of 3,000. It picked up on the Slippery Rock Borough mayor's race, filling a void after the Slippery Rock Eagle and Tri-County News folded. The Rocket, which has won 300 awards since its launch 75 years ago, covers student government, the administration, campus trends and athletics, and it provides a voice for important issues.
Students brush up against history as it's being made; journalism is often referred to as history's first draft.
"The Rocket has reached a certain aspect of power," Rizzo said. "We're the only newspaper in the area, and most students recognize our leadership during the school year by going to the Web site 50,000 times per month. We serve a very important role."
Rizzo served as sports editor last year before his promotion to editor-and-chief. His interest in journalism started during his sports-mad boyhood.
"When I was little, the [Pittsburgh] Trib was 35 cents and the [Pittsburgh] Post-Gazette was 50 cents," he said. "I used to buy them and read the sports pages and look at the editorial cartoons. I just had an interest in news. It was cheap and something to do."
He pursued journalism during high school, learning about the "power of the pen" while covering a teacher's strike, but really found his niche at SRU. 'When I got into it here, it affirmed that journalism was something I really wanted to do," he said.
Rizzo, a senior who wants to work for a newspaper after graduation, said he hopes his legacy at The Rocket will be one of content gains. "We've gotten better this year in terms of layout and copy," he said. "I would hope that we continue to get better."
Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.