JEA honors runners-up from North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and Oregon

From an incredibly competitive field of entries, judges also selected four runners-up, who each will receive $1,000 scholarships.

Adviser Neal Morgan credits student Caroline Chen of East Chapel Hill High School for fundamentally changing what he thought was possible for a high school journalist.

“I am a passionate adviser who has always believed what we do matters, but until this year, I had no idea that a high school student could create journalism that shaped the larger community,” he said in her nomination letter. “At this point, it is almost like Caroline is an influential local reporter who happens to go to high school.”

Morgan cited a pair of influential stories by Chen, an opinion piece on NIMBYism (“not in my back yard” attitudes) in housing and urban development and a meticulously researched piece on North Carolina’s state education budget.

“She has shown an ability to use her writing and passion for equity issues like housing and education to make those seemingly complex and nuanced subjects far more accessible to her peers,” Morgan said.

Contest juror Ava Butzu of Michigan lauded Chen for tackling these tough topics and for standing up to critics who questioned her reporting. 

“Your fact-checking … and dealing with their false and intimidating allegations of you and your work made me applaud you from start to finish,” Butzu said. “And your writing sparkles. You find compelling facts and statistics and package them in the same way that parents try to ‘hide veggies’ in their kids’ food.”

Chen, who plans to study public policy in college, found her way there through journalism when she decided to make room in her schedule to join The ECHO. 

“It has built my curiosity, civic engagement, political presence and initiative to step outside of the box,” she wrote in her personal narrative. “Unlike the A, B, C or D solutions I excelled at before, the answers I hound now don’t even exist until I seek them out. In my lifelong quest for answers, I know the path ahead will not be easy. The greater my impact, the greater the opposition will be — but not only am I unafraid, I look forward to it all.”

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