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UP editor wins Barbara Jordan Media Award

HendersonChelsea Henderson, editor of the Lamar University Press, recently won the Barbara Jordan Media Award in the division of college students for her story “MS: Painfully Invisible,” which ran in the April 2013 issue of Upbeat, the magazine published by the University Press every semester.

The 31st annual Barbara Jordan Media Awards were sponsored by the Texas Governor’s Committee of People with Disabilities and honored nine journalists across the state.

“All the stories that won this year are about people who have disabilities,” Henderson said. “But if you go and read them, they’re all people who just happen to have disabilities. Just the way you present their lives to people changes how you think about them. It doesn’t seem like that would make a really big difference, but when it comes to how the general public perceives people with disabilities, little changes in wording like that really do make a big difference.”

Henderson’s story focuses on Cecelia Johnson, a Lamar alumnus and artist who has multiple sclerosis. The two were introduced through Andy Coughlan, assistant director of student publications.

“He saw her friends were doing this really big fundraiser for her to get stem cells,” she said. “I was immediately interested because I didn’t even know what stem cells were at all, and I’d never met anybody who had multiple sclerosis before. I did a lot of research first, and then I got on her YouTube channel and watched all of her videos. They’re amazing. They made me cry. I didn’t even know her and I was crying for her.”

The award ceremony was hosted by the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism in Denton and featured speakers such as Bob Phillips of “Texas Country Reporter” and Dorothy Bland, dean of the Mayborn School of Journalism.

“The dean worked for USA Today, and she was talking about the first time she met Barbara Jordan,” Henderson said.  “In her later years, Barbara Jordan had multiple sclerosis, but the general public didn’t really know that for the longest time.

“She didn’t want people to know that about her, because people would think since she had MS it would strip all of that away. I think it’s really cool thinking that it wasn’t really that long ago, and it’s changed so much since then. If we could continue to do things like this and really conscientiously pick the words we use in our stories, then think how much better it’s going to be 20 years from now.”

The presenters from the Governor’s Committee played short videos depicting the nine winning stories before inviting the journalists on stage.

“I couldn’t see it because we were standing off to the side of the stage, but I could hear it,” Henderson said. “They picked some of my favorite quotes of Cecelia’s. It was really overwhelming.

“I’m just excited that I get to look at Barbara Jordan every day. It really is an amazing honor. As soon as anybody started talking about who they’re really thankful for, though, it’s the person that they wrote about, because now when you write about somebody like this and you’re telling their actual, personal story, then you need to have a relationship with them.”

Henderson said she has worked for the University Press since her first day of school in fall 2009, taking over as editor in fall 2012. Through the years, she has won 32 awards, including a national award from the Society of Professional Journalists.

“The thing I’m most proud of is that last year the university press broke its record for our highest number of awards in a given year, and I thought that was really exciting,” she said. “With just awards, we got 46, and then if we add in scholarships through those same competitions, we got 49. That’s the most the university press has ever gotten, so we’ll see if we can compete with that this year. It’s really hard when you’re competing against yourself.”

Henderson said she feels differently about the Barbara Jordan Media Award, though.

“The only time I take my medal out of its box is for other people—they want to see it, they want to hold it,” she said. “I feel weird holding it. In my mind, I know yes, it’s mine. It has my name on the back. It’s engraved. It’s mine. But at the same time, I got it for telling Cecelia’s story. So I really feel like it’s Cecelia’s. That’s the whole point of being a journalist. It’s not about you at all. It’s about the people.”