By Erin Roberts
Competing against the offerings of professional media companies, Ohio University's Soul of Athens has won the Award of Excellence for Best Online Publication at the Pictures of the Year international competition.
The team, mainly comprising students and faculty from the School of Visual Communication, finished fourth behind first-place National Geographic and The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, which finished second and third, respectively. The Missouri School of Journalism administers the annual photojournalism contest.
Though the team faced high-powered competition, some VisCom faculty members said they weren't terribly surprised the faculty-student collaboration did so well.
"I'm exceedingly impressed with the competition; when a student production is a finalist with those from organizations like The Wall Street Journal and National Geographic, that's pretty phenomenal," said Associate Professor Stan Alost, the content leader for Soul of Athens. "I'm delighted, but not horribly surprised because I think our students produce that quality of work. They are as talented as many of the professionals, and we had a phenomenal team."
Soul of Athens is an annual online publication produced primarily by VisCom students and faculty, with help from students in other schools throughout the Scripps College of Communication. The second edition, which went live in June 2008, explores the theme "In Pursuit of Wellness." It highlights the work of student photographers from Dawn2Dusk, another annual VisCom project where students were given 24 hours to capture the theme on digital media.
Greg Campbell, a graduate student in the J. Warren McClure School of Information and Telecommunication Systems, handled much of the component programming for the site under the direction of Eric Kramer, a visiting professional.
"It was a big project, and we all had to work together," Campbell said. "It was definitely a learning experience for all of us. It's very cool that we're able to compete with such big names. The first year set a precedent that was difficult to follow, but I feel like we've set a good foundation for future editions of this online publication."
School director Terry Eiler said he has come to expect quality and consistent work from the students and faculty.
"I'm proud of the fact that a new group of faculty members and students can maintain such a high level of production for a second year," Eiler said. "I think it's always wonderful when student work is directly compared with the best of media company production online."
Eiler said the edition also has been entered into NPPA Best of Photojournalism, Webby Award and National Academy of the Television Arts and Science Emmy Award competitions, all of which are yet to be judged.
The first edition of Soul of Athens, launched in May 2007, painted a sentimental profile of Southeast Ohio. It also earned international recognition, including first place for "Best Multimedia Package," second place for "Documentary Video" and second place for "Feature Video" in the independent divisions from the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA); second place for "Best Small Market Multimedia" in the Pictures of the Year International competition; and the 2007 Technology Information Gurus of the Appalachia Region (TIGAR) Award for best non-commercial Web site from the Information Technology Alliance of Appalachian Ohio.
Visit soulofathens.com to see this year's project, as well as the archived edition.