Sterling College journalists win KCM awards

Sterling College student journalists recently won several awards in the 2020 Kansas Collegiate Media Publications Award Contest. 

Junior Darren Porche, of Houston, sophomore Taya Wilson, of Sterling, and freshman Max Dutton, of Sterling, all came away as individual winners.

Also, the Sterling College Observer newspaper, which is in its first year as the campus newspaper, received a Silver designation in the overall category, in which publications can earn one or none of three overall honors within their classification. 

Silver is the second highest designation, and Sterling faced off against other four-year, private college publications that were judged based on three consecutive issues produced during the year.

“Considering this is our first year competing in KCM as the Observer staff, I’m thrilled with these results,” said adviser Todd Vogts, assistant professor of media at Sterling College. “It’s been several years since Sterling participated in KCM with its previous newspaper, so just being back in competition is a good thing. The Observer winning the second-highest award a publication can is simply outstanding.”

Wilson, who served as the Observer’s managing editor this year, said she was proud of the staff.

“I feel like the staff as a whole has done a great job with the Observer, especially with how small the staff is this year. We represented ourselves well in the contest, which is a testament to the work that we put in over the past semester,” she said. “Being a new publication and doing so well is very exciting because I know that we still have a lot of room to grow, which means people can be expecting big things from this group down the road.”

Vogts agreed and said he was particularly happy for the journalists who placed in the individual categories.

Most notably, Dutton and Wilson both took first place in their respective contests.

Dutton defeated 16 other entries and came away with first place honors in Sports Feature Writing for his story about Sterling’s basketball-playing siblings junior Kylah Comley and sophomore Kenan Comley, both of Sterling. 

“I was very excited to hear that I won. Since my entire family is home right now, I got to share the moment with them too,” he said. “I chose to submit my article because I thought it showcased my writing ability and featured a brother-sister duo with an interesting story. Both of these things gave me confidence that it was the correct article to send in.”

Wilson swept first through third in News/Event Photography, beating 10 other entries. Two of her photos, including her first-place winner, were of theatre performances.

“I didn’t expect to sweep Event Photography, so that was cool. I was really happy with how my photos did, and I feel like it’s really a testament to my mom, Rene Wilson,” she said. “She got me started in photography and journalism, so all of my success is really due to her and everyone else who has supported me along the way. They’ve all been a blessing in my life, and I’m very thankful for them.”

Wilson also took second place in Sports/Action Photography, which had 14 total submissions.

“I actually got very lucky on that one,” she said. “I was suppose to be getting pictures of Kenan Comley for Max’s feature story, and we were playing in St. Mary’s gym, which has a balcony that runs around the gym. So while I was up there and trying to get my setting I ended up taking that picture, which happened to be a placer.”

Porche took third place out of 22 entries in Sports News Writing for his coverage of the women’s basketball team, and Dutton also received an honorable mention out of 29 submissions for his review of the “Cats” movie.

Having seven winning entries means nearly 20 percent of Sterling’s entries placed, which Vogts said was good for the new publication.

“You have to start somewhere,” he said. “It’s the same reason we started out only doing a small, monthly newspaper when so many other schools produce weeklies. We have to start with something to build the program, so I’m proud of all the students who entered and helped build the Observer. There’s nowhere to go but up.”

To enter into the contest, students had to select work that had been published between Feb. 8, 2019 through Feb. 10, 2020.

Entries in most categories were judged against work from other four-year, private college publications, except Review Writing. In that category, both private and public schools were grouped together, pitting Dutton against a wider variety of competitors and making his award stand out a bit. 

“I think that’s a testament to how well Mr. Vogts prepares us to write at a high-level. It also makes me more driven to improve my writing to continually get better,” he said. “Whenever you’re competing against large, public colleges that have more students, resources and team members than you, it shows how well your teacher has prepared you. Luckily for us, we have one of the best teachers in the state — no matter level.”

The awards would have been announced during the KCM Spring Conference scheduled for April 5-6, 2020. However, due to COVID-19, the conference was canceled, so winners were announced online April 10.

Students placing in the contest will receive certificates touting their success, but Vogts said the judging feedback they will get is even more important.

“I’ve had the chance to read what the judges said, and there are a lot of great suggestions in those comments,” he said. “In some cases, they reiterate things I’ve been saying, which is great because sometimes students need to hear it from someone else for it to sink in. In other instances, the judges said things we hadn’t considered, and that will allow us to really grow. I love the competition aspect of contests, and winning is great. However, learning and improving from it is the most important aspect.”

Coming off of these victories gives Wilson hope for the future of the program.

“I think the success we had this year will hopefully help grow and strengthen our journalism department,” she said.

Dutton agreed.

“The success from this contest propels the Observer forward in the world of journalism. I hope that more students will see our success and want to become a part of it next year,” he said. “These accomplishments are another addition to the many accolades that Mr. Vogts has received in his teaching career. I hope the Sterling community recognizes how blessed we are to learn from a teacher of his caliber.”

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About toddvogts 843 Articles
Todd R. Vogts, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of media at Sterling College in Kansas. Previously, he taught yearbook, newspaper, newsmagazine, and online journalism in various Kansas high schools, and he ran a weekly newspaper in rural Kansas. He continues to freelance as a professional journalist from time to time. Also, Vogts is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the Journalism Education Association (JEA), and the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), among others. He earned his Master Journalism Educator (MJE) certification from JEA in 2022. When he’s not teaching or writing, he runs his mobile disk jockey service and takes part in other entrepreneurial ventures. He can be reached at or via his website at