Avery Peterson, who spent part of her summer searching for students willing to talk about their experiences being homeless, has been named this year’s winner of one of the Journalism Department’s most prestigious awards— the Otto J. Bos Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Journalism.
Peterson is a senior majoring in Print and Online Journalism. She is a graduate of Los Gatos High School, and she attended West Valley Community College and City College of San Francisco before enrolling at SF State.
The annual scholarship honors the memory of Otto J. Bos, who was a 1970 graduate of the department, editor of its award-winning newspaper (then named Phoenix) and an All-American soccer star. Following graduation, he covered politics and government for The San Diego Union. He became a key staff member of San Diego Mayor Pete Wilson, who later was elected a U.S. senator and then governor of California. At the time of his death of a heart attack in 1991, Otto was Gov. Wilson’s director of communications and public affairs.
Family and friends created the scholarship, which covers a full year’s tuition – currently approximately $6,500. It has been awarded to a journalism student since 1992.
Applicants must write an essay in which they offer an analysis of news media performance. The applications are judged by a three-member panel comprised of former friends and colleagues of Bos. They include Lynn Ludlow, a retired journalism instructor, and Mike Grant and David Kutzmann, both of whom worked with Bos at The San Diego Union.
Peterson’s essay focused on the challenges and opportunities for journalists as technology changes the media landscape. “Publications are shifting away from a static product consumed by passive audiences toward a culture of participation,” she wrote. Data mining and new storytelling techniques like “StoryCorps” are giving audiences different ways to understand complicated stories. “The continuously changing media landscape has produced one of the most exciting, yet challenging times to be a journalist,” she wrote.
Peterson said she began to study journalism because careers tests pointed her in that direction because of her interests in writing, storytelling and poetry.
“When I was young, I had a creative imagination, and I when I saw strangers I would make up stories about them,” she said. “In journalism I get a chance to really find out what these people’s actual stories are.”
Peterson believes that good journalism can take you on an “unexpected journey” into other people’s worlds. During the summer, she learned about the SF Homeless Project in which Bay Area news outlets banded together to cover one of the region’s most visible problems. A California State University survey showed that roughly 8 percent of students experienced homelessness in 2015, so Peterson decided to do a video story focusing on SF State students.
She soon learned that students hesitate to come forward because of the stigma attached to being homeless.
“I contacted a source who used to attend SF State and is currently homeless, and she gave me a lot of advice,” said Peterson. “I spent a few days going around the city, putting up fliers at shelters at at Golden Gate Park.”
As a result, students stepped up to tell their story. Peterson’s video was published July 20 by Golden Gate Xpress.