Sophomore wins SEJ Press Freedom Award – Newsroom
Inspiration can be found in interesting places. For Macy Berendsen ’24, the inspiration came to him while to study abroad in Rome, where she becomes aware of the garbage epidemic the city is facing. As a journalism major with an interest in sustainability, this story was waiting for her. After returning to Minnesota, his teacher, Dr. Mark Neužil, encouraged Berendsen to submit his story for a Society of Environmental Journalists Press Freedom Award. She was going to win the Student Press Freedom Day opinion contest.
As the first prize winner, Berendsen made her article published in SEJournal and took over the Society of Environmental Journalists Twitter account May 3 (World Press Freedom Day). She also received a one-year student membership in SEJ and a full one-year mentorship program in environmental journalism.
Berendsen’s talent gave him the ability to turn trash into treasure.
What inspired you to focus on Rome’s waste problem for your play?
I originally wrote this piece as part of a class when I was studying abroad last fall as a student in the Rome Empower program at the Bernardi campus. I was in the environmental journalism class. For our last try, we could choose what topic we wanted to focus on, and I chose the waste issue. It’s so important in Rome – it’s literally everywhere. I wanted to know a bit more about why it is like that and my teacher, Dr. Mark Neužil, helped me. He said, “I think the Mafia is involved,” so I commend him for kind of giving me the idea for the story. I took it and used it as a subject.
How did you become aware of the Mafia’s connection to waste management in Italy?
My teacher told me about it. His wife was with us during the program and she is very interested in the mafia, so he told me to go talk to her. She and I talked about the resources that could be used and why the mafia is involved in garbage collection. So I never would have known if he hadn’t pointed it out and I hadn’t gotten the resources from his wife.
Is there a specific moment in the research and writing of this piece that really marked you?
Italy has the highest recycling rate in Europe, but it’s obviously still very dirty, especially in Rome and Sicily. However, in Florence for example, the city was very clean and very well maintained. So when I found out that Italy as a whole was the #1 country for recycling and waste collection in Europe after witnessing their huge problem, I was shocked.
How did you feel when your work was recognized when you won the SEJ National Press Freedom Award?
It was great! Dr. Neužil is the one who sent me the email and told me that I should apply. I just thought, OK, I didn’t really think about it. He said it would look good on your resume even if I didn’t win. So, I was pretty shocked when I got the email I had won, but it really feels good to have my work recognized. In journalism and as a journalist, it can be difficult to have your work recognized because we all do the same thing in a way. It’s nice to have someone who appreciates your work, especially as a student, always trying to navigate what I want to do and find my writing style. It was so nice to have someone basically say I’m on the right track, my writing is good, and I’m in a good place. That’s what I liked and took away from the win.
When did you develop a passion for journalism?
Well, when I was a senior in high school and everyone started deciding why they were going to school, I still didn’t really know. I knew I wanted to keep reading and writing because that’s what I’ve always been good at and that’s my thing. I chose journalism on a whim. I’m an English minor now, but didn’t want to pursue English as a major just because I felt it was too broad, and wanted something a little more specific where I could still adapt my reading and writing skills.
Are there any events/issues you would like to focus on after graduating from St. Thomas?
I like environmental journalism more than I thought, so I’d like to see where it leads. I would like to help raise awareness about specific issues and I would like to focus more on women’s issues in marginalized countries in terms of women’s rights and menstrual hygiene care and education. Unfortunately, there are a lot of marginalized women all over the world and a lot of women’s issues. I would like to focus a lot on women’s rights, especially now abortion rights.
How did your time in St. Thomas help you grow as a journalist?
I really think my involvement with TommieMedia has helped me a lot because I guess that’s my first taste of what being part of a news organization will be like. Again, when I chose journalism, I didn’t know exactly what my education would be like, so being able to be part of a mini news organization that replicates what it’s going to be like after graduation. It really helped me learn about different aspects of journalism like broadcasting, podcasting and so on. The professors in the journalism department are great people with many resources. They’re very smart, very educated, and they’ve been around for a while, so they have a lot of valuable information. It really helped me grow.
Is there anything else you would like to mention?
I know St. Thomas emphasizes sustainability. I haven’t studied it as much as I should, but now I focus more on environmental and sustainability topics. With the St. Thomas 2025 plan, I think raising awareness and seeing that it exists is on our campus, and there are a lot of people doing a lot of great things on campus to help fight climate change , is something that I hope more of our students can become more aware of.