Press Release

OWU Journalism Graduate Earns National Gannett Award

November 26, 2015 – by Cole Hatcher

Spenser Hickey ’15 earned a Gannett Award of Excellence for his reporting. (Photo by Mathew Hatcher/The Marion Star)

Spenser Hickey ’15 Recognized for Reporting in Human Trafficking Case

Eight days after graduating in May, Ohio Wesleyan University journalism major Spenser Hickey ’15 began working as a reporter for The Marion (Ohio) Star. Within four months, he’d written an article on human trafficking deemed by Gannett Co. as one of the best in the nation.

Hickey earned the recognition, a Gannett third-quarter Division III Award of Excellence, for an article he wrote on how a human trafficking ring, involving young Guatemalans smuggled into the country to work at an egg farm, was broken up by law enforcement.

According to the contest judges: “From the get-go, readers go along with law enforcement as they raid the egg farm where immigrants have been virtually enslaved. The writing is evocative. The workers are given the depth and dignity due them. It reminds why we do what we do.”

Hickey, who majored in journalism and double-minored in politics and government and in women’s and gender studies at OWU, said he is honored to have been involved in such an important topic.

“One of the central tenets of professional journalism is giving a voice to the voiceless, and that’s something I worked hard to do, especially on this story,” he said. “I like to think this recognition is a sign I did that well.

“I spent several weeks working on the story, and then several more working with a more experienced reporter (Jessie Balmert) on follow-up stories she wrote, one of which won the award with mine.”

Hickey credits his Ohio Wesleyan experience with helping to prepare him to work as a police and breaking news reporter.

“At Ohio Wesleyan, I learned the fundamentals of journalism alongside one of the largest groups of majors and minors in recent graduating years, so we all had specific areas we gravitated toward,” he said. “Often, mine were writing long stories and covering breaking news events, sometimes at the same time, and I relied on both in applying to The Marion Star. As the newspaper’s police reporter, I cover a lot of difficult stories, and frequently rely on the fundamentals I learned through the OWU Journalism program – working police sources, requesting public records, covering courts and crime scenes.”

Hickey said his work for the daily newspaper began as a near trial by fire.

“I started on a Monday, and by Friday the rates of daily heroin overdoses had tripled in one of the biggest stories of the summer,” Hickey recalled. “There wasn’t much of a learning curve, but having covered breaking news on an obviously smaller scale at Ohio Wesleyan, I already had practical experience, not just fundamentals.

“Since then, I’ve been trusted with a lot of responsibility at the Star, and the experience and networks with professors and fellow young journalists have been an invaluable tool in handling these kinds of high-profile stories,” he said. “Journalists are human beings like everyone else; we don’t hope for things like overdose spikes or human trafficking operations – but when they do, it’s our job to cover them.

“All in all, I’d say this recognition – and everything else I’ve accomplished in the six months since graduation – shows the strength, not only of an OWU journalism education, but of the entire liberal arts experience,” Hickey concluded. “Though as a journalist I have to emphasize that liberal here does not mean political liberal. The lessons I learned – in studying for my major, in other courses, and outside the classroom – really informed my work, and life in general and I’m grateful for those opportunities.”

Hickey and his co-worker’s articles on human trafficking also earned a regional award for the best watchdog reporting at Gannett’s Central Ohio newspapers in September. Read Hickey’s award-winning article, “Enslaved in Marion.” Learn more about Ohio Wesleyan’s Department of Journalism.