Two articles, a podcast and a personal essay — the winners of our latest Storytelling Contest come from three schools on three continents.

Winners in the 12th News Decoder storytelling competition.
Luis Eberl of Realgymnasium Rämibühl in Zurich (RGZH) has won first prize in News Decoder’s 12th Storytelling Contest for his article about Swiss citizens burying underwear and teabags to help scientists evaluate the quality of soil.

For the second consecutive contest, a student from RGZH has won News Decoder’s twice-yearly competition open to students from the nonprofit’s 21 schools in 17 countries.

Chloe Patricof and Anabella Paige of The Hewitt School in New York City won second prize for their podcast, “Listen: How can we curb misinformation & defend free speech?”

The two runners-up were RGZH student Maria Ermanni, who interviewed an expert on media and psychology for an article that weighed the benefits of social media networking against its toll on mental health, and Maame Afua Kome-Mensah of SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College in Ghana for, appropriately, an essay on the meaning of winning.

RGZH students submitted the most entries in the latest contest, which featured 43 entries from eight News Decoder partner schools.

The four winners, selected by a three-person jury, came from schools on three continents — Africa, Europe and North America. They included two pieces of reporting, a podcast and a personal essay.

The jurors included News Decoder Trustee Nolwazi Mjwara, a communications consultant at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in Paris; News Decoder Correspondent Barry Moody, a former reporter and editor for the international news agency Reuters; and Li Keira Yin, a multiple winner in previous News Decoder competitions.

“I loved Luis Eberl’s article as it was incredibly original, shining an important light on a topic that could benefit our Earth as a whole,” said Yin. “It is also an article that blends civil activism, science and the environment, which was super eye-opening to read.”

Yin is currently a student at Wellesley College where she is a contributing writer to The Wellesley News. Yin went to high school at The Thacher School, a News Decoder partner institution in the U.S. state of California.

While at Thacher, she had more stories published on News Decoder and won more prizes in the News Decoder Storytelling Contest than any other student. You can see the winners and winning stories from all the News Decoder contests here.

“I love the News Decoder Storytelling contest because it helps me understand how I can improve my work through feedback from industry professionals, and also celebrate the great narratives that my peers have followed,” Yin said.

Storytelling beyond the ages of the competitors

The articles by Eberl and Ermanni were written in an English class taught by RGZH teacher Michael Maupin that used News Decoder’s signature pitch-report-draft-revise content-creation process, which puts a premium on interviews with expert sources.

“Interviews are a critical part of the reporting process,” said News Decoder founder Nelson Graves. “We encourage students to identify and then nail down experts to add authority to their reporting.”

The contest is held in honor of the late Arch Roberts Jr., who served with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna after more than 12 years as a staff member with the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee. With the backing of an anonymous donor, News Decoder was able to award a total of $850 in cash prizes to this year’s winners.

“The contest is a great way to motivate young aspiring writers to produce their best work and think about how to organise and develop their reporting and writing,” Moody said.

“There is a wide diversity of subjects and quality, but it is clear that the contest has helped the entrants to assess their own strengths and explain complex issues while trying to avoid bias. There were some very impressive entries that showed writing development way beyond the ages of the competitors.”

In selecting the podcast by Patricoff and Paige as well as Kome-Mensah’s essay on winning, the judges recognized the power and relevance of different media forms for telling non-fiction stories.

“Thank you so much for the platform to share my story and for the opportunity to reach many young people who may or may not share similar stories with me,” said Kome-Mensah. “It has been a transformational journey and I have learnt a lot from it.”

The podcast by Patricoff and Paige came out of research they conducted for a webinar on free speechheld last April featuring students from Hewitt and Transylvania College in Romania.

Each year, News Decoder pairs students from member schools with counterparts in other countries so that students can work together on a cross-border project that involves research, reporting and communication.

“This was an excellent example of how research and reporting for a webinar can be converted into multimedia content for our global website,” Graves said.


Marcy Burstiner is News Decoder’s Educational News Director. A graduate of the Columbia Journalism School, she has taught journalism for more than 15 years at Cal Poly Humboldt in California. The author of Investigative Reporting: from premise to publication, Burstiner was awarded the James Madison Freedom of Information Award in 2018 by the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

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