Ali Strand, UND Studio One Win First SPJ National Award Since 1995

Ali Strand
Ali Strand

Last September, Studio One reporter Ali Strand was out on assignment just like any other week.

“When I first pulled up, I remember thinking how beautiful the ranch was,” said Ali Strand, a native of Leeds, N.D., and a Studio One intern and assistant news director.

She was covering a story on the Stable Days Youth Ranch located just outside East Grand Forks, Minn. The ranch is owned and operated by Ben and Caryl Lester as a faith-based equestrian youth mentoring program.

“Then meeting Ben, Caryl and Andrea [their niece] made it that much more admirable,” Strand said. “I knew there was a story to be told… their passion for what they do made my job easy and rewarding. They let us into their home and really opened up to us. They are such an incredible and inspirational family.”

The two shoots at the ranch combined with hours spent in editing, created a three minute segment for Studio One. And Strand thought it was just that. She accepted praise from her colleagues for a job well done and moved on to the next assignment. But even though this story was done being told, it was about to have a story of its own.

At the Midwest Journalism Conference in April, the story received first place in Television Feature Reporting in the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Mark of Excellence Awards. The contest region included North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin. All first place stories are automatically entered into the SPJ national competition against the 11 other regions.

Out of the 12 regions for the SPJ contest, the judges choose 2 finalists and 1 winner. The last time a Studio One was a national winner in this contest was in 1995. Until now.

Strand’s story took the top prize nationally for SPJ.

“Winning both first in the Midwest region and first in the nation was such an honor first of all,” Strand said. “There are so many great stories and talented reporters at the college level. I was really in shock that I was not only able to compete with them, but win! It was truly a rewarding feeling,” she adds.

Achieving first place in a four state region is an accomplishment in itself; first place in the nation is beyond any expectation that Strand or anyone at Studio One had.

“Our reporters and photographers do very well in the regional contests every year. It’s not unheard of to take home a few first-place awards. But when I got the email about how Ali did in the national competition I couldn’t believe it. I even called the SPJ Awards Director to make sure I was reading the information correctly!” Studio One News Director Stephanie Flyger explained.

“We are proud of Ali. She competed with the best in the nation and took top honors. When industry professionals recognize a UND student’s ability, it is a reflection of the exceptional programs that our University offers. Her accomplishment speaks highly of the University of North Dakota’s Communication Program and its partnership with Studio One,” says Director of Television and Radio, Barry Brode.

Strand says she is not taking full credit for the award. Like all great stories, great characters are vital to the plot.

“The best part about winning this award is knowing that Ben and Caryl Lester and their niece Andrea made this possible. By letting me come into their home and tell their story in such an honest way is my favorite part of being a reporter,”  Strand adds. Fellow Studio One intern, Dag Amdam was the photographer for the story.

The story on the Stable Days Youth Ranch originally aired on Oct. 4, 2012. It was part of Studio One’s “Spotlight Segments” where the reporters are allowed a full extra minute to tell their stories.  Strand has been a reporter and news anchor with Studio One for three semesters. She plans to graduate in December with a degree in communication and a minor in leadership.

This year, Studio One broadcast journalists and crew have won 43 awards in North Dakota and throughout a six-state region.  They have won more than 650 awards since the show began.

Studio One, celebrating its 25th anniversary, is an award-winning news and information program produced by staff and 38 student interns, in conjunction with the UND Television Center. Studio One can also be seen by viewers across N.D., northern Minn., Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., Denver and Colorado Springs, Colo., in select communities in Mich. and Va. as well as in Brandon and Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Stephanie Flyger
Studio One News Director
University of North Dakota
701.777.4345 (Direct)

Suzanne Irwin
Studio One Marketing Director
University of North Dakota
701.777.3818 (Direct)