The Shorthorn at UT-Arlington won multiple awards from TIPA.
By Geoffrey Hovatter
Former Ranger managing editor Kyle Cotton, now a graduating senior at the University of Texas at Arlington, was named Reporter of the Year for Division 1 by the Texas Intercollegiate Press Association at its annual convention in Corpus Christi.
“It was frankly shocking,” he said in an interview March 27. “I had mentally prepared myself that I was not going to get it.”
Cotton was nominated for his work on The Shorthorn at UT-Arlington. That university competes in Division 1, the division for the largest Texas universities, at TIPA.
As his name was being called at the awards ceremony March 16, he said he nearly fell out of his chair at a table with his friends.
“It’s a stepping stone in a sense to getting to where I need to be in terms of getting ready mentally and going into to a profession,” Cotton said.
He competed against 14 other senior Division 1 universities.
“Reporter of the Year was established in 2011 to recognize students who demonstrated outstanding skills and effort as an editor or a reporter or a photographer or a designer,” Fred T. Stewart, journalism professor at Texas A&M Commerce, said.
Cotton was nominated by Shorthorn adviser Laurie Fox.
Samples of published work for students nominated are judged by professional journalists outside the state.
“This is an important part of TIPA contest submissions,” Stewart said.
During the three-day conference The Shorthorn won other awards including Editor of the Year and Photographer of the Year and finished second place in overall excellence.
Before he began pursuing a degree in journalism, Cotton was unsure of what he wanted to do with his life.
“At the time, I was just kind of lost personally,” Cotton said “I always wanted to be a journalist in some format all the way back to grade school.”
He attended Texas Lutheran University 2009- 2012 but lost interest in journalism there.
In the fall of 2014 he came to this college to reignite his passion for journalism.
“Once I was at The Ranger it was just a matter of making the time and dedicate myself to it,” he said.
He credits one story in particular with cementing his choice of major.
He was asked to cover a student government meeting in which members discussed a “smoking corner” at Dewey and Belknap places.
“It was my first big story and I just kind of latched onto it, and I just followed it all the way through the spring. And from there it just kind of took off,” he said.
He said the journalism program helped him learn and feel at home.
“It essentially gave me an avenue to really explore and try and figure out what I want to do, and I just fell in love with news writing from there,” Cotton said.
After graduating from this college with an associate degree in journalism, he chose to transfer to UT-Arlington because of the award-winning Shorthorn.
“Shorthorn pure and simple,” he said.
His time at The Ranger helped him improve his news instincts and prepared him for the demanding work that is required at The Shorthorn, he said.
At The Shorthorn, he became more focused on writing. He covered the university administration, city elections and the NFL draft.
His favorite beat was the city of Arlington.
“I thought that was the most fun I had in a sense that it allowed me to look at problems within the city that could face students, challenge students and also kind of inform the community there about kind of what’s going on,” Cotton said.
Cotton has had to overcome obstacles beyond getting a story.
Three years ago he wrote an opinion column in The Ranger on his struggles with Asperger’s syndrome and how he overcame it.
Asperger’s is a developmental disorder that effects communication and socializing skills with people of high intellect.
He said he was able use this to his benefit by recalling broad information when covering stories.
He said the ability to recall details helped him maintain institutional knowledge.
“I looked at things a little bit more abstractly then I had done previously. And I think it made me a better storyteller and a better reporter by being able to notice certain things,” Cotton said.
He has advice for students starting on the academic path he has chosen.
“For young journalists, that first semester you need to look at establishing yourself. Look at your beat, find out what has previously gone on with a representative and then exploit the hell out of it or rethink the way the beat has previously been done,” Cotton said.
He said he could have taken an easier road to a career and worked for his dad’s logistics company.
But he wanted to do something more fulfilling.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that if it was something I desired I could have easily gone into the family business, benefited from 40 years worth of connections that my dad made and already be a success,” he said. “But that wasn’t what I wanted do. I wanted to help people.
“Journalism was the thing that I felt challenges me enough mentally but also was a way that I could really impact people’s lives,” he said.
His next step after graduation is to intern at the San Antonio Business Journal for the second time.
“I’m 28 year old,” he said. “I’m graduating with a bachelor’s a little late as an unconventional student, but in a sense, being on that older side has made me have to push harder than a lot of other people.”