Stefan Agregado,a senior at has been awarded the Society of Professional Journalist (SPJ) 2011 Mark of Excellence Award for breaking news photography for a piece entitled “CSU students arrested in protest,” school officials announced Monday.
The photograph, framed between the legs of a CSU police officer, shows two female students laying faced down and being handcuffed. The shot was taken during a meeting last November during a protest against raising tuition and the “state’s general disinvestment in higher education,” according to a statement from the school.
“When my advisors at the paper told me about [the award], I could hardly react. I didn’t know what to say,” said Agregado, a 22-year-old art major with an emphasis in photography and a minor in journalism, in a statement. “I’m not used to the recognition I suppose, and I never dreamed I would win nationals. I had no expectations of hearing anything from SPJ ever again. All I could say was ‘thank you’ and just soak it in.”
Each year, the SPJ recognizes collegiate work published or broadcasted by announcing the national winners of its Mark of Excellence Awards. This year, student journalists submitted more than 4,000 entries. From there, National Mark of Excellence Award judges choose one national winner in each category and two national finalists.
A photographer for CSULB’s student newspaper, the Daily 49er, Agregado and the other first-place national winners will be recognized at the Excellence in Journalism 2012 conference in September in Fort Lauderdale. First-place national winners, including Agregado’s winning photo , are showcased on SPJ’s website.
Agregado said he wasn’t looking forward to the photo assignment. He had shot CSU Board of Trustees meetings previously, and he described them as boring. However, the meeting turned to be much more exciting than he had thought.
“I got so many good shots that day I had no idea which one I wanted to use. This was a good problem to have,” he said. “The moment was so energized I didn’t even think about the photos until I got back to the office. Sorting through 500 images, I edited about 30 for print and online. The other shots had great reactions, but everyone in the newsroom agreed the peak moment was the students getting arrested. That told the whole story.”
Agregado coverage of the event started. He said the protesters were subtle at first, but when the open forum began, they became so loud and distracting that they were all kicked out of the meeting. That’s when the story began to change.
“The girls in the photo shoved the officers so hard that they fell down, and that’s when the cops started arresting people. From there everything happened too fast to really think, but I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I was not going to waste it,” he said. “I dove right behind the cops and snapped away. Shortly after that, one of the glass doors shattered and there was some blood, and then the cops in riot gear came out. This was all done without as much violence. Nobody expected the door to break and it scared most people away because who would want to get stuck with the bill for that?”
Winners and finalists were previously recognized by receiving first place in one of the SPJ’s 12 regional competitions. Each first-place regional winner advanced to the national competition.
Agregado, who expects to graduate from CSULB in December, captured three first-place honors at the California College Media Association awards event on April 21 for spot news photography, best photo series and best sports photo.
Earlier in the month, his photo was selected as the SPJ Region 11 (Arizona, California, Hawaii and Nevada) winner in the best news photography category, a win that put his shot in the national competition.
“Stefan is a talented and committed news photographer," said Daily 49er content adviser Barbara Kingsley-Wilson. “He’s an art student who often works all night finishing projects. But, he ‘gets’ news and understands when you have to drop everything and grab your camera when something breaks.”
Agregado said he wants to be a photographer or a teacher after he graduates in December.