Al Drago ’15, Michael Bodley ’16 named SPJ national award winners 

The Society of Professional Journalists recognized the School of Communications students as Mark of Excellence Award recipients.  

Al Drago ’15 (left) and Michael Bodley ’16 were recognized as national winners in the 2014 Mark of Excellence Awards, a competition sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists.
​Elon University journalism majors Al Drago ’15 and Michael Bodley ’16 interned together in summer 2014 at The Baltimore Sun, sharpening their journalistic chops in the Charm City. The duo even tag teamed a few stories, Drago recalled.

Nearly a year later, the School of Communications students are again making headlines together, both recognized with top honors in the 2014 Mark of Excellence Awards, a competition sponsored by the Society of Professional Journalists.

A freelance photojournalist, chief photographer for “Elon Local News,” and former photo editor for The Pendulum, Drago won not one but three national awards in the competition that celebrates the best in student journalism.

He captured top honors in Breaking News Photography (Small School Division—defined as 9,999 students or fewer) for an image titled “Waverly Shooting” that features family members mourning the death of a 3-year-old girl who was killed in a drive-by shooting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Drago’s images “Last Touch” and “Festivus” also won in General News Photography (Small School Division) and Feature Photography (Small School Division), respectively. “Last Touch” depicts an emotional scene at Arlington National Cemetery during the funeral of Maj. Gen. Harold J. Greene, the first U.S. general officer killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Festivus” features a joyful moment during the 10th annual Festivus celebration, an end-of-the-year off-campus mud party organized by students.

The White House News Photographers Association’s 2015 photographer of the year, Drago also claimed a national finalist nod in Sports Photography (Small School Division) for his image “Eye Ball.”

“To be recognized on the national level means that I can help show others how well Elon has prepared me for my career in journalism,” Drago said, explaining the significance of his accolades. “At Elon, no one will stop you from reaching above and beyond what you even thought you could achieve.”

Drago cited his connections with Elon instructors for significantly impacting his all-around development. “The mentoring and relationships I have had with professors is what makes Elon stand out,” he said. “There have been countless in-depth professional and life talks with professors such as Rich Landesberg, Colin Donohue, Tom Nelson and Randy Piland.”

Bodley, The Pendulum’s editor in chief, won in Breaking News Reporting (Small School Division) for his story “Mold discovered in Elon’s Loy Center addressed by Physical Plant.” Pendulum opinions editor Katy Canada ’15 was named a national finalist in In-Depth Reporting (Small School Division) for her story “Cutting master’s pay spells trouble for graduate programs, teachers.

“National SPJ recognition is a deep honor that reflects especially well on how The Pendulum has prepared me, and many others, for the kind of quality journalism that serves its community with accountability,” Bodley said.

In his award-winning piece, the junior explained he attempted to convey the students’ perspective and the university’s point of view equally, presenting both narratives for his readers.

“Writing about mold – and potential health issues that may have come with it – demands a delicate balance, especially when the cause was unclear,” Bodley said. “It was important for me to treat both the university and its students fairly and evenly. Maintaining an unbiased perspective is one of the most important challenges for any young journalist.”

The Pendulum and “Elon Local News” were honored in March with several Mark of Excellence Awards – including six regional winners ­– at the Society of Professional Journalists Region 2 conference. Twelve regions comprise SPJ, and all regional winners move on to the national round of judging, from which one national winner is selected.

Drago commended his fellow Elon student media members for their integrity and work ethic.

“At any given hour of any day there are student journalists working around the clock,” he said. “It’s almost instinctual at Elon that we work harder and longer just to get the story right. It’s what we were taught since day one our first year.”

The national winners will be acknowledged at the Excellence in Journalism 2015 Conference, held Sept. 18-20, in Orlando, Florida.

Prior to Drago and Bodley’s four national Mark of Excellence honors this year, Elon student media work has earned five other first-place awards since 2010. This includes Drago’s win last year in Photo Illustration (Small School Division) for a Pendulum front-page illustration titled “Breaking the bank.”

In 2014, The Pendulum was also honored in the Best All-Around Non-Daily Student Newspaper category.