Stanford student journalists win James Robinson awards

February 10th, 2014
Kurt Chirbas

Kurt Chirbas

KURT CHIRBAS, a Stanford senior and a staff writer for the Stanford Daily, has received first prize for the 2013 James Robinson Award for Student Journalists. WINSTON SHI, a sophomore, received second prize.

The award was established in honor of the late JAMES ROBINSON, an award-winning journalist who served as editor of Stanford Report.

Chirbas, an English and economics major, has written for the Daily since the fall of his freshman year in 2010.

“In fact,” he wrote in an email after being notified that he’d won the James Robinson Award, “I was assigned my first Daily story before my first day of Stanford class!”

Since then, Chirbas has had stints as news desk editor and managing editor for the Daily and last summer worked for the Sacramento Bee‘s feature and metro desks.

His submission for the James Robinson Award competition was a two-part series of articles on student representation and participation on university committees.

“I was really just inspired by a rhetorical question that Vice Provost of Student Affairs GREG BOARDMAN had asked during an interview for an earlier story: ‘Is student representation on university committees effective?’ Interested in finding out the answer myself, I tried interviewing as many people involved in the committee system as possible: students, administrators, ASSU officials, etc. I learned how it is important for writing to be clear and concise, but also not to flatten or remove complexities.”

Chirbas’ entry was praised for its enterprising reporting and exhaustive research.

“Kurt’s stories were enlightening, even for those of us who have a vague idea of how students participate on university committees,” said ELAINE RAY, director of campus communications, who was one of the award judges. “After exploring the committee structure, he delved deeply into how effectively students were engaged with the work of the committees and how they were communicating that engagement back to their peers. It is clear from his writing that Kurt embarked on the project with no preconceived notions, just a deep intellectual curiosity.”

Anatomy of a strength coach

Winston Shi

Winston Shi

Shi, who has not yet declared a major, also has worked for the Daily since his freshman year, serving as an editorial board member, a columnist and a senior staff writer. Currently, he is managing editor of the Opinions section of the Daily. For the James Robinson Award he wrote a three-part series on SHANNON TURLEY, the Cardinal football team’s strength coach.

“Writing, and journalism in particular, brings a certain sense of perspective – you get to see firsthand things you don’t normally get to see. Being at the intersection of so many different paths and characters, all the while telling a fun story – that’s the best part of journalism,” Shi wrote.

Robinson, a graduate of Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, joined the Stanford News Service in 1998 following a distinguished career in daily journalism that included reporting jobs at The Republican (Springfield, Mass.), Hartford Courant, Houston Chronicle and Agence France-Presse.

Under Robinson’s editorship, Stanford Report won a Gold Medal for Excellence from the Council for Advancement and Support of Education in 2002. Robinson, a native of Newton, Mass., died in January 2004 of complications from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He and his family established the award prior to his death.

“James Robinson was an uncommonly gifted writer and a sage observer of the human condition. He used language instrumentally, employing the fewest possible words to convey the greatest possible meaning.  Winston writes much the same way  — and with similar results, ” said COIT BLACKER, a professor in International Studies and a senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute. Blacker also is Shi’s academic adviser.  ”I think James would be delighted with Winston’s selection for any number of reasons, but mostly because he would detect in him a kindred spirit.”

In addition to Ray, 2013 award committee included LISA LAPIN, associate vice president for public affairs and director of university communications; BRAD HAYWARD, senior director, strategic communications; and LISA TREI, associate director of communications in the School of Humanities and Sciences.

Chirbas received a $3,000 prize. Shi received an award of $2,000.

PHOTOS BY LINDA A. CICERO