Is Western giving national journalism award the silent treatment?

You won’t find out about this award from Western Kentucky University’s administration. You can go to and search all of the news releases the school has issued in the last several years. And, unless you know something I don’t, you won’t find any release about Nicole Ares and the College Heights Herald winning the 2017 Betty Gage Holland Award that was presented July 25.


Nicole Ares

Student journalist Nicole Ares and the College Heights Herald at Western Kentucky University accepted a national award July 25 for Ares’ investigation of sexual misconduct on Kentucky college campuses.

Ares and the Herald were awarded the 2017 Betty Gage Holland Award by the Cox Institute for Journalism Innovation, Management and Leadership and the Student Press Law Center at a ceremony July 25 at the University of Georgia.

The award honors Ares’ work on the story “In the Dark: Records Shed Light on Sexual Misconduct at State Universities,” which the Herald published in a four-page special section on May 4. You can read the special report here:

Ares’ reporting on the story spanned most of the 2016-17 academic year, and include WKU suing the Herald over access to records of sexual misconduct on campus.

Calling the story “outstanding investigative work,” Nsenga K. Burton of the Cox Institute said in announcing the award: “It was a difficult selection process as we had some very strong submissions this year. Your story, level of thorough investigation and dogged pursuit of the truth in addition to outstanding writing made your submission stand out above the rest.”

Ares, who graduated in May with a bachelor’s degree in journalism, was the Herald’s managing editor/digital at the time the story was published. She researched and wrote the story as the capstone project for her advanced reporting class, and was coached throughout the process by Amanda Crawford, an assistant professor of journalism in WKU’s School of Journalism and Broadcasting.

Ares is from Versailles, Kentucky, and will attend graduate school this fall in the Netherlands at the University of Amsterdam, where she will study political communication.

“Being able to pull together this story … shows that persistence pays off,” Ares said. “It shows that important journalism is being done by student journalists.”

Ares’ story examined how Kentucky’s eight public universities react when a faculty or staff member is accused of sexual misconduct. In her research, Ares requested five years of records from each institution on cases in which the universities had determined there had been violations of sexual misconduct policies. She sought records that were redacted of information that would identify victims. Six of the eight public universities produced redacted records for Ares to inspect. WKU and Kentucky State University in Frankfort denied her request. WKU said its denial was an effort to protect the identities of victims of sexual misconduct and promote a safe climate for victims to report infractions, and contended the records were private under federal law.

Ares appealed WKU’s denial to the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office, which issued an opinion directing WKU to release the records. WKU then sued the Herald in Warren Circuit Court, which was the university’s only avenue under the state Open Records Act to appeal the attorney general’s opinion. The case is ongoing.

The College Heights Herald is WKU’s student-run news organization, founded in 1925 and publishing in print twice weekly during the academic year and online around the clock throughout the year. The Herald has been awarded the Pacemaker Award, the top national honor for student-run news organizations, 15 times and is a member of the Associated Collegiate Press Hall of Fame.

The Betty Gage Holland Award, founded in 2005, is named for Betty Gage Holland, a long-time friend of journalism education at the University of Georgia. It honors outstanding college journalism nationally, especially that which protects the integrity of public dialog on college campuses and uses “sunshine” laws and open records to allow people to see how the public’s business is conducted. In addition to the award, Ares and the Herald each will receive $1,000.


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