MARQUETTE – Becky Kratz, a Northern Michigan University senior from Ishpeming, was one of 12 finalists selected from nearly 4,000 entries in a New York Times contest for college journalism students. She was vying for an opportunity to accompany Times op-ed columnist Nick Kristof on a “once-in-a-lifetime” reporting trip to Africa in September.
To enter the contest, Kratz and other hopefuls submitted 500-word essays on why they would be the perfect traveling companions and how the experience would benefit them personally and professionally. Finalists had to follow up with official transcripts.
“It sounded like something worth trying for because it offered an opportunity to see a unique part of the world while gaining journalism experience with a Pulitzer Prize winner at the same time,” Kratz said. “I've never traveled outside of the Midwest, so getting to see an entirely new side of the world would have been awesome. Plus, it would have given me a chance to get my byline outside of the local arena and experience third-world issues firsthand.”
As a finalist, Kratz will receive three one-year subscriptions to TimesSelect, a service that provides exclusive online access to op-ed columnists and the Times archive.
The grand-prize winner – announced Tuesday as a graduate student from the University of Columbia-Missouri – will travel with Kristof on a “rough” reporting trip to Africa. She will write a blog about her experiences for nytimes.com and record a video blog for MTV-U.
In his column announcing the outcome of the contest, Kristof wrote that the itinerary will most likely begin in Equatorial Guinea, followed by a stop in Cameroon and a trek through a jungle with Pygmy villages, ending in the Central African Republic. He and the winner will visit schools, clinics and aid programs during their tentative 10-day journey.
“But the point of this contest wasn't to give one lucky student the chance to get malaria and hookworms,” Kristof wrote. “It's to try to stir up a broader interest in the developing world among young people. One of our country’s basic strategic weaknesses is that Americans don’t understand the rest of the world.”Kratz is an English writing major with a journalism concentration. She formerly contributed a weekly column to the Mining Journal. At NMU, she has worked for two years as a student writer in the communications and marketing office. She will leave that position in August to serve as features editor for the North Wind student newspaper.
While she didn’t come away with the grand prize, Kratz said the contest boosted her confidence in her writing ability and validated her decision to pursue a career in journalism.
“I'm still amazed that I was a finalist,” she added. “I never expected to get as far as I did. After I found out, my hands didn't stop trembling all day. This contest reminded me just how many people support me and my career goals. My family, friends, co-workers and NMU were behind me 100 percent, and still are. In the end, I got my essay published and got my name on something that everyone in the country can read, which makes me feel like a winner.”
The essays submitted by Kratz, the remaining finalists and the grand-prize winner are posted at www.nytimes.com/marketing/winatrip/.