Students tackled topics from homelessness to hip hop. Entries on COVID-19 and the environment copped the prizes in our storytelling contest.

Charles Gorrivan of the Friends Seminary school in New York and Claire Wang of School Year Abroad France have won first prize in News Decoder’s storytelling contest for contrasting articles exploring the effects of COVID-19 around the world.

Gorrivan was also one of three runners-up, while two students in California — Daisy Lawrence of The Thacher School and Ryan Rothman of Chadwick School — took the other runner-up awards with articles focusing on the environment and climate change.

The twice-yearly contest showcases outstanding work by students at News Decoder’s 16 partner institutions and awards $1,000 in prizes, thanks to the support of an anonymous donor in honor of the late Arch Roberts Jr.

For the seventh edition of the contest, News Decoder received 34 entries from students at 11 institutions. A jury of three professionals judged the submissions for their originality, authority and global relevance.

“What I liked about these entries was the wide array of stories and styles,” said juror and News Decoder correspondent Tom Heneghan.

Tackling COVID-19 in radically different ways in the contest.

While COVID-19 and climate change were dominant topics in the contest, students also examined child abuse, health care, the news industry, homelessness, ageing, racism, protest music, the immunocompromised, refugees, political lies, travel, incarceration, plant-based meat, wildlife preservation, disobedience, organ transplants, Donald Trump, technology, hip hop music and Libya.

“The awarded submissions shed light on the fundamental questions we should be thinking about today,” said juror Emma Bapt, a former News Decoder intern and current graduate student.

First-prize contest winners Gorrivan and Wang tackled COVID-19 in radically different ways.

Gorrivan conducted extensive research in his report on how the COVID-19 pandemic is exacerbating inequalities in his home city of New York. He interviewed health experts and even a doorman, and tapped cutting-edge research to produce a piece that was cited prominently in an article by two specialists at the renowned Brookings Institute think thank in Washington.

Wang offered a nuanced personal account of how she observed complacency, denial and bigotry as she was uprooted from her year of study in France by the pandemic and forced to return to her home in China. Juror Alexandra Gray praised Wang’s piece, which examined varied national responses to COVID-19, for being “refreshingly honest.”

“We have all been reading articles on the coronavirus for months now, yet these stories contribute new reporting and cultural observations to the global conversation,” said Gray, a marketing specialist and former Community Engagement Manager at News Decoder.

The environment dominated the runners-up.

Lawrence took a distinctive look at climate change in a personal account of how a young person’s urge to buy clothes can harm the environment. “Will we see a turning point in the demand for fast fashion?” she asked. “Will we recycle our textiles rather than throw them in a landfill? Will we consume more mindfully?”

Rothman combined interviews and data in exploring how students around the world are combatting plastic pollution.

Gorrivan’s second award-winning article described how student protesters upset over economic inequalities have thrown free-market darling Chile into disarray, prompting a crackdown decried by human rights advocates.

Heneghan offered advice to students.

“For those who didn’t top this list, the contest doesn’t end here. Take a look at the winners and compare their copy to yours. Journalists do this all the time, because we know we can always improve,” Heneghan said.

“Maybe one story described its scenes more vividly, or another chose its words more carefully. It could be they just sounded more authoritative. Figure out what your submission lacked and add it to your next story. It’s the best way to learn.”


Angela Gu is News Decoder’s summer intern. She has experience working with student publications and enjoys creating opportunities for emerging writers. Gu is currently a law student pursuing a combined JD/MBA degree at the University of Toronto, where she completed her Honours Bachelor of Arts. She speaks some French and some conversational Mandarin, and is learning Spanish and Italian through travel and song. 

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Chadwick School Different twists on COVID-19 win News Decoder contest