Damon Bennett of GI Northwest Wins Student News Reporter Contest at State Mock Trial Championship

Damon Bennett of GI Northwest Wins Student News Reporter Contest at State Mock Trial Championship

Damon Bennett of GI Northwest Wins Student News Reporter Contest at State Mock Trial Championship

Damon Bennett, a junior at Grand Island Northwest High School, is the winner of the second annual Student News Reporter Contest at the Judge Lyle Strom High School Mock Trial State Championship.

The Mock Trial State Championship, coordinated by the Nebraska State Bar Foundation, took place Dec. 9-10 in Lincoln.

The contest, in its second year, is an educational component of Nebraska’s High School Mock Trial Program. The contest was developed by the Nebraska State Bar Foundation’s Bench Media Committee in cooperation with the Nebraska Broadcasters Association. Assisting with the contest this year was Nebraska Supreme Court Public Information Officer Janet Bancroft.

In all, six students competed in the Student News Reporter Contest. The participating students observed one Mock Trial session and later met with Lancaster County District Court Judge Kevin McManaman and media mentors, Bill Kelly, senior producer at NET, and Brett Baker, executive producer at Channels 10/11.

The winner was announced Dec. 9 at the Mock Trial Recognition Banquet at Embassy Suites.

Steve Guenzel of Lincoln, president of the Bar Foundation, said the Student News Reporter Contest adds realism, depth and excitement to the annual Mock Trial competition. The writing contest recognizes an important strength of the judicial process – accurate, balanced and thorough reporting by the news media, he said.

Damon said, for now, he is focused on journalism as a career. “I enjoy writing, writing stories other people will enjoy. That’s a good place for me,” he said. “My dad asks me, ‘How can you sit in a room with a blank page and make something?’ But that’s what I like, having a blank page, and someone giving me something to write about.”               

Through writing, Damon said, he is able to “unlock his vocabulary” and present his thoughts and ideas in a more professional manner than when speaking.  He entered the news writing contest, thinking, “Here’s my shot. I guess I might as well take it.”

Damon says good writing requires the right mindset, including focus and intent, and is achievable by most all. His main obstacle in the News Reporting Contest was his practice of taking too many notes to sort through when it came time to write the news story. The trial, however, was easy to write about because he was knowledgeable about the case. He said his goal was to write a story that readers - who were not in the courtroom - could relate to and understand.

In the Student News Reporter Contest, students were given two hours to write a 300- to 600-word news story with a headline based on the Mock Trial session each attended. Students were encouraged to take detailed notes during the proceedings. Their entries were judged by professional journalists on content, fairness, completeness, writing mechanics and style.

Scoring judges were Scott Stewart, local news editor of The Daily Record; Jacque Harms, news director/midday anchor, KNOP-NBC Nebraska; and Dave Schroeder, news director KRVN Radio.


Photo: Damon Bennett, winner of the Student News Reporter Contest at the Mock Trial State Championship, with Nebraska Supreme Court Justice Stephanie Stacy and Grand Island Northwest Mock Trial teacher coach Brian Gibson.