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Journalism graduate student wins Reader's Digest prize

Vicky Anning expected a quiet lunch with a teacher last week when she arrived at the Faculty Club ­ until she found the entire journalism faculty there. The journalism graduate student was even more flabbergasted when they handed her an envelope containing the announcement that she'd been awarded a Reader's Digest Foundation prize for excellence in journalism. "It took me a while to digest the news," said Anning, apologizing for the pun. "I was just really excited."

Anning, 29, a native of Great Britain, worked as a book editor for several years in England and Germany before coming to Stanford. She was a research coordinator at the Potsdam Institute of Pharmacoepidemiology in Germany, when her boss, Walter Spitzer, asked her to come and work for him in the Bay Area. When Anning admitted that what she really wanted was to go to journalism school, Spitzer suggested that she consider Stanford's journalism program and work for him part time. "It was the best decision I've ever made, coming to Stanford," said Anning. Although she has done some projects for Spitzer, now director of epidemiology at Genentech, most of her time has been devoted to her journalism studies.

Shortly after Anning's arrival last June, Palo Alto passed an ordinance that prohibits sitting or lying on the city's sidewalks from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Struck by the wide chasm between the haves and the have-nots in the area, Anning took on homelessness as her beat. She has written stories on the issue for the Stanford Daily and the Palo Alto Weekly.

"It's been great to write about the things that I'm really passionately interested in," said Anning, whose master's project is on media coverage of East Palo Alto. "The faculty didn't limit me in any way."

"She seems to have an instinctive news sense, and she's quite interested in [reporting on] social issues," said James V. Risser, head of Stanford's journalism program.

Thirteen Excellence in Journalism grants of $10,000 each were awarded this year to graduate schools by the Reader's Digest Foundation. The schools, selected for their high academic standards and comprehensive curricula, develop their own criteria for selecting scholarship recipients. Risser said Stanford chooses its Reader's Digest scholars based on academic achievement.

"Excellence in Journalism was created to expand opportunities for talented young people entering this vital profession," said James P. Schadt, foundation chairman and chief executive officer of the Reader's Digest Association. The program has awarded nearly $2.3 million to participating graduate schools since 1987.

After Anning earns her master's degree in June, she'll do a four-month internship at Mother Jones magazine. The Reader's Digest award will supplement a small stipend she'll receive from the magazine.

"I'm looking forward to being involved in the editorial process there. They challenge a lot of preconceived ideas and are very committed to investigative journalism," said Anning, who hopes that in addition to doing research and fact checking, she'll get to do some writing for the magazine. After the internship she'll be looking for a job in journalism.

"It's been a change of career for me," Anning said of her foray into journalism, "but this is definitely a great launch pad in a new direction."


By Elaine Ray