In the Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru line, Carter Weinhofer’s phone buzzed. The text from Journalism and Communication Instructor Janet Keeler—faculty adviser for Eckerd College’s student newspaper, The Current—congratulated him on winning first place in the Region 3 Mark of Excellence Awards of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Reading the exclamation points in her text, Carter’s face lit up. It had been a couple of months since he’d submitted his article “Envisioning a more resilient Eckerd” to the contest’s General News Reporting category among small colleges. Excitement took over, and he texted everyone close to him with the news from the parking lot—coffee in hand.
Each year, the Society of Professional Journalists recognizes outstanding work by professional and student journalists with the Mark of Excellence Awards. The organization names a first-place winner in each category and two finalists. Besides Carter’s first place honors, Eckerd had three finalists this year: Zachary Franco, a senior anthropology and Spanish student from Lighthouse Point, Florida, in feature writing for “A Hunt for Life” in Cat. 5; Georgia Bobo, a senior creative writing and management student from New York, in sports writing for “Fotopoulos steps down; players claim mistreatment” in The Current; and Leah Lentz, a sophomore creative writing student from Medford, New Jersey, in column writing for a collection of humorous pieces in The Current.
Carter’s winning article was about how Eckerd’s campus has changed over the years, how it will continue to change due to sea level rise, and how the Eckerd community has and will continue to adapt. It was written for the special edition magazine Cat. 5 that was published by The Current in December 2022. The magazine was Carter’s final publication as editor-in-chief of the student newspaper.
He says the Mark of Excellence Award made him feel incredibly proud of himself. After graduating later this month, Carter will be excited to pursue a career in journalism, and this award has given him confidence in his skills.
Carter is a senior environmental studies and Spanish student from Catasauqua, Pennsylvania, but he has had a long successful career in journalism at Eckerd College. When he first arrived, he was interested in continuing his journalism career that had begun in high school. In the fall of 2019, he became a science reporter at The Current. When the campus closed due to the pandemic in the spring of 2020, the community at The Current became a consistent source of support as the team continued to meet virtually.
“The pandemic pushed me into journalism,” Carter says. The publication offered community in a time when it was hard to find meaningful connections with other people.
When students returned to campus, Carter was promoted to managing editor, which was an unusual jump; usually, a student becomes section editor before moving to managing editor. Carter remembers the new position being intimidating at first because reporters rarely see the behind-the-scenes work. As managing editor, he oversaw much more of the everyday operations that keep a newspaper running. He says he was able to learn fairly quickly with the help of other staff members.
The next year, Carter became editor-in-chief. He and several other Current staff members attended a journalism conference in New York City. Carter remembers an energizing atmosphere, meeting and talking with fellow journalism students and sharing copies of their papers with one another. The Eckerd students discovered that many other organizations published magazines and special editions in addition to the newspaper, and they were inspired by these ideas.
A group of them were sitting in a restaurant in Little Italy discussing all kinds of ideas for the future of The Current. From Italian desserts and napkin drawings, Cat. 5 was born. The name of the publication is a nod to the scale used to rate hurricanes, staying true to the ocean theme. It also pays tribute to the five sections within The Current (news, sports, culture, science and opinion).
As an environmental studies student, Carter is interested in coastal issues and conservation. The theme for Cat. 5’s first issue was “life,” and he wanted to explore how sea level rise impacts life at Eckerd. He spent a lot of time in the archives learning about the many changes Eckerd’s campus has endured over the years. He hoped the story would highlight the resilience and adaptability of the Eckerd community.
“The scientific aspect is important, but equally important is student life,” Carter says.
After serving as editor-in-chief for a year, Carter became the senior editor of The Current. His mentor, Joanna Huxster, Ph.D., assistant professor of environmental studies, recommended him for a position as a correspondent at Planet Forward. This role has allowed Carter to focus more on writing after being in the editing world for the last few years. Planet Forward is an outlet to hone his skills as an environmental journalist in a professional setting. Earlier this year, he was promoted to senior correspondent at Planet Forward. He has written six feature stories, including “Chile’s environmental conservation can create inspiration,” which went on to become a finalist in Planet Forward’s Storyfest earlier this year.
Carter isn’t sure what his future holds. He knows entry-level journalism jobs are tough, but he’s passionate about reporting.
“Environmental journalism is where I want to be,” he says. “I always feel the most comfortable when I’m writing, and I feel as though I can make an impact in my reporting, no matter what the story is.”