Stanford junior wins James Robinson Award for Student Journalists

Photo of Erica Evans at a desk.
Erica Evans (Photo credit: L. A. Cicero)

ERICA EVANS, a junior majoring in international relations with a minor in communications, is the 2015 winner of the James Robinson Award for Student Journalists. Evans, who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Stanford Daily, wrote a series of articles about the university’s judicial process and the Honor Code.

The award was established in honor of the late JAMES ROBINSON, an award-winning journalist who served as editor of Stanford Report before he died in 2004.

For the award, student journalists are asked to submit a story or series of stories published in the Daily that demonstrate engaging writing as well as news judgment and balanced reporting.

During the fall of the 2014-15 academic year, Evans wrote a series of stories that examined students’ attitudes toward cheating as well as their understanding of the Honor Code. She also examined the efforts of the faculty and administration to review the judicial process.

“In writing this series, I learned a lot about Stanford’s judicial process that I didn’t know before. It was also the first time that I had to deal with sources that were reluctant to share information. I learned that the best way to get the full picture of a story is to talk to a wide variety of sources and approach a subject from several angles,” Evans said.

Evans caught the reporting bug in 2012 when she took Reporting, Writing and Understanding the News (COMM 104) taught by JANINE ZACHARIA, a lecturer in the Department of Communication.

“That is the class that really got me hooked,” Evans recalled over lunch earlier this month at the Faculty Club. She added that students in the class worked on “real stories.” Her first story was about Palo Alto City Council deliberations on a proposal to ease the city’s building-height restrictions. The story was published in the fall of 2012 by Peninsula Press, a multimedia news site that is a project of Stanford’s Graduate Program in Journalism. In addition to reporting, students were required to create and contribute to multimedia content, including videos and photos.

Zacharia said that four years later she uses Evans’ building-height story as a model for students in her introductory class.

“I tell students on the first day of COMM 104 that through the course they will learn to write more clearly, ask smarter questions and think more critically, skills that will help them as students and beyond even if they don’t end up going into journalism. They will also become smarter consumers of news. The class is run in some respects like a real newsroom and most COMM 104 students end up choosing campus beats. But Erica covered Palo Alto and she tackled development and growth, a controversial, challenging story even for a professional reporter.”

An Ohio native, Evans moved to Tokyo with her family and spent her high school years there. After growing up in suburban Ohio, it was quite a cultural change at first, she says, but “I can’t imagine going to high school any other place.”

She came to Stanford as a freshman in 2011 and took time off after her sophomore year to do missionary work in South Korea. She will spend spring quarter in the Stanford in Washington program. After graduation next year, Evans wants to pursue a journalism career focused on foreign affairs.

Zacharia, who spent most of her career reporting from and covering stories about the Middle East, is pleased about Evans’ plans.

“I believe that even with all the challenges and uncertainties facing journalism today, being a reporter is one of the most stimulating, rewarding jobs on the planet, and I try to convey that passion for the field in my teaching. As someone who cares deeply about how we are going to get millennials to care about news from abroad, I couldn’t be more thrilled that Erica plans to pursue journalism and wants to be a foreign correspondent. She fully deserves this award.”