Northern Iowan wins five awards at Iowa College Media Association

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  • The Northern Iowan experienced a day in the city of Des Moines, Iowa. The staff attended multiple workshops, focusing on how to better their skills as editors, writers and leaders. There was a total of 10 NI representatives for this year’s Iowa College Media Association (ICMA) conference.

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Students from the Northern Iowan student newspaper at the University of Northern Iowa won five awards at the annual Iowa College Media Association awards presentation in Des Moines on Feb. 2.

“The awards reflect that the Northern Iowan team continues to do quality journalism and remains an important part of campus life,” Christopher Martin, the Northern Iowan faculty co-advisor said.

The NI’s biggest award was the ICMA’s annual First Amendment Award, given “to the student journalist or media team who best highlights issues relating to the First Amendment on a college campus.” 

The NI’s entry was the story of it actively affirming the First Amendment rights of the newspaper to speak to university employees for its reporting, and for those employees to speak to the newspaper without fear of retribution.

The First Amendment problem emerged in February 2022, as UNI Housing and Dining created barriers to journalists Olivia Brunsting and Caroline Christensen reporting on resident assistants experiencing unusually low mental health and lack of support from the university. 

The Northern Iowan contacted lawyers at the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education (FIRE), and the organization sent a letter to UNI expressing concern over a policy requiring RAs to submit their responses to the reporters’ questions through their marketing department for approval, which violated students’ First Amendment rights. 

The NI published the original investigative story, and a follow-up on the First Amendment complaint. UNI ultimately dropped the prior review policy.

The ICMA presented the awards at its annual convention in Des Moines. Fourteen Iowa colleges and universities are members of the ICMA.

The winners of UNI’s 5 ICMA awards:

Best Use of Social Media

(1st) Nixson Benitez and Emma Koehler

Best Written Feature Reporting 

(2nd) Olivia Brunsting

Best Opinion 

(2nd) Caroline Christensen

Best Print/Online Sports Photo (Honorable Mention)

Toni Fortmann

First Amendment Award

The Northern Iowan

Northern Iowan executive editor Nixson Benitez was also a top three finalist for the ICMA’s Pat Pisarik Student Journalist of the Year.

The University of Northern Iowa’s independent student newspaper was founded in 1892. Digital journalism professors Christopher Martin and Anelia Dimitrova are co-advisors to the newspaper, which receives support in part from UNI student fees. The newspaper’s website is