This year, The Drag’s very own Aurora Berry impressively won third place and secured $1,500 in scholarship funds for her entries “TikTok Protest” and “Let’s do the Time Warp again!”
“This is a pleasant dream,” Berry said as she shares her thoughts upon first seeing the email revealing her third-place finish. “I’ll check it again in 10 minutes to see if it’s still a reality.”
Each year, two students from the top universities in the country submit their work to the Hearst Journalism Awards Audio Competition in hopes of obtaining recognition for their work — in addition to the scholarship award given to the five finalists in each category.
The Hearst Journalism Awards Program features 14 competitions in various sectors of the journalism field: college writing, photojournalism, audio, television and multimedia. The program awards scholarships to students for outstanding performance in college-level journalism, and is a token of prestige for both the student and universities recognized by its judges.
Berry said that part of the initial surprise at her win stemmed from an understanding that she was not only competing against some of the smartest students at her university, but also from around the nation.
“It’s so unbelievable to me that people were looking at this broad panel of stuff and liked what I made enough to recognize it,” Berry said.
And Berry isn’t even the only student from UT who placed in the top 20.
“Just at the University of Texas within the journalism school there are so many talented audio storytellers,” she continues. “Like Jackie Ibarra, she’s one of the most talented audio storytellers I know.”
Despite being initially surprised at her accomplishment, Berry separated herself from her peers by effectively covering a social movement that found its roots on TikTok.
“My first piece was about the ban on abortions after six weeks in Texas, but it was explored through the lens of how young people were protesting on TikTok about it.,” she said.
Her work effectively captures the anger many young people felt toward a whistleblower website in which Texans could report abortions occurring past the six-week limit outlawed in the state.
“I thought it was really interesting to explore how you can essentially make mischief by making things into a jokey game online,” Berry said. “Because obviously, this is a serious topic.”
Although Berry’s work on her first submission was serious, she showcased her versatility as an audio storyteller with the choice of her second piece, which was more lighthearted.
“My second piece was a really fun one for me personally to do,” said Berry. “As I was making it, I thought, ‘Even if this doesn’t turn out to be something cool, at least it’s something I had a good time with.’”
In telling the story of Starlet Burlesque’s live shadowcast performance of ’70s cult classic Rocky Horror Picture Show, Berry said she most enjoyed being a part of a lively atmosphere that encouraged its participants to pursue having a good time through exploration of their gender identities.
“(The performances) are so elaborate and cool. It’s traditionally been a place for people to express their gender identity and to express their sexuality. As time has gone on, conversations surrounding the LGBTQ+ community have obviously changed a lot,” Berry said.
“It was a story about people finding joy with each other and finding ways to be themselves by exploring their gender identities and having a good time.”
Berry’s inspiration for the story came partly from a prior love for film.
“God help me, I was a hardcore theatre kid in high school. So I’m a Rocky Horror fan. Being able to experience the level of enthusiasm, production quality, the vibe … you kind of get swept up in it too.”
The rising storyteller has much more in the works for the audio storytelling medium, including a podcast initiative titled “Planet Texas,” in partnership with Planet Texas 2050.
“Essentially what we’re trying to do is have a conversation about how the climate and our environment in general is changing in parallel with this huge population growth that we’re expected to see by 2050.”
In what can be considered an exciting preview for her podcast that will be releasing on The Drag sometime later this year, Berry explained that climate change presents challenges for people and is scary for many to come to grips with the realities it presents.
But herself and others on the team want to focus on another important component. “We’re really looking at how we can be more resilient in the face of that. We’re looking at stories of perseverance from Texans who have experienced extreme droughts, wildfires and flooding.”
Through giving her audience a nuanced human perspective in the podcast, Berry hopes to make it easier for her audience to understand that the fight against climate change is ongoing — rather than a foregone conclusion.
“We’re focusing on the emotional and social implications of climate change and dealing with extreme weather,” Berry explained. “When you think of it as a scientific, sort of lab experiment that’s going to eat the world one day, that is so hard to process.”
“You get a lot of people who are apathetic or who think we’re all going to die. It’s easier for them to protect their interests and not believe in it.”
Through her work, Berry intends to be a part of changing that. If her third place finish at the Hearst Journalism Awards Program is any indication, her listeners are in for a treat.
You can find Berry’s award-winning submissions here.