A school that boasts Tom Brokaw and USA Today founder Al Neuharth as alumni is getting some more national recognition.
The Volante, which is the school newspaper at the University of South Dakota, has been awarded the Pacemaker Award two years in a row by the Associated College Press. It’s the college equivalent to the Pulitzer Prize.
"It makes all the hard work on print nights and all the other nights feel worth it," Multimedia Editor Chris Jessen said.
"It's just really nice to know that all the hard work you put in throughout the year pays off in a big way," Assistant Multimedia Director for The Volante Emily Niebrugge said.
The Volante has been part of the fabric of the University of South Dakota campus for the past 125 years. It's completely run by students.
"We have a great journalism program here. We have a great student newspaper and a lot of really good journalism students," Jessen said.
"The students know what students want to read about and what they want to know about," Niebrugge said.
"It's a validation of what we do. We're judged by professional journalists from around the country. We're compared with other newspapers across the country," USD Journalist in Residence and Volante advisor Chuck Baldwin said.
The Volante is only printed once a week and went up against other weekly college newspapers across the country including Florida State, Boston College and Auburn University.
The students who work on The Volante and their advisor say they believe one thing that separates their paper from others is that they aren't just a mouthpiece for the university.
"A big thing is we're independent so the school can't tell us what to do,” Jessen said. “The school can't censor us at all. We have a good, healthy relationship with the university but being independent definitely sets us apart and helps us because we can get the good content out there without being censored.”
"Our motto is, 'We're the students' voice,' and I think it shows in that we aren't the university public relations office, and we aren't the public relations arm of the president. We're the students' voice and those are the people we try to serve," Baldwin said.
Baldwin says ultimately the students are the ones who get the credit for creating an award-winning paper week after week because without committed students who want to get better, a quality paper wouldn't be possible.
"The expectations keep growing. We've won this two years in a row now. Are we going to have a three-peat? Anytime you have a program like this, you're always striving to be better and I tell the students all the time, 'This is a good newspaper; it's not as good as it can be,'" Baldwin said.
That's why the students say they are always looking to improve what's in the paper, despite the longstanding tradition of the students who worked on The Volante in the past.
"We don't do this for the awards. It certainly helps to get awards. It certainly makes us feel like what we do is worth it, but I think everyone comes in here and works hard because they want to work hard not because they want to make alumni proud or alumni happy. We want to put out the best paper because that's what we want to do," Jessen said.
And that next best paper may just be another award-winner.