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Brookhaven College employee newsletter: Monday, Aug. 20, 2012

Student Journalist Makes "It" Happen

Student Journalist Makes

Obed Manuel wants to be a political writer for the New York Times. He has the talent, the drive, and though still two years from his bachelor’s, the résumé to do it.

The Brookhaven College journalism student scored résumé gold last month when he became one of ten students to win a national biography contest sponsored by the University of North Texas’ Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference. The honor earned both him and Daniel Rodrigue, Obed’s journalism professor, a free ticket to the July 20-22 writing seminar and accommodations at the host hotel in Grapevine.

Obed’s stirring 12-page biography features the story of Derek Madrigal, a Brookhaven College student who made headlines this year after surviving a vicious attack in South Padre Island during Spring Break.

To tell Derek’s story, Obed used a new style of journalism, one that uses fiction writing techniques to tell a non-fictional story. The writing style gives detail and imagery to the brutal attack.

Not easily forgotten, the article turned heads.

“When I got to the conference, some of the other {student winners} had wanted to know who’d written the ‘bloody sludge story,’” Obed said. “They told me they couldn’t put it down.”

Learning writing tips from professionals at the peak of their career while attending the Mayborn conference was an exceptional learning experience, and Obed made the most of it. Rubbing elbows with some of the industry’s top names, Obed made an impressive professional contact in Luis Alberto Urrea, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and critically acclaimed author of 14 books.

Obed’s encounter with the seasoned writer was the result of both luck and courage. During a break in the conference, Obed saw Luis walking to the elevators at the hotel and introduced himself. The two continued to see each other in the hotel hallways over the course of the conference and talked.

“I asked him if I could ever send him some of my work, and he said ‘yes,’” Obed said.

Another part of the experience was an editing session with James McGrath Morris, author of “Pulitzer: A life in Politics, Print, and Power,” who made recommendations to each of the 10 contest winners. Already in great shape, Obed’s article required only a little condensing and the addition of detail, Obed said.

Obed also may see his article published in the Dallas Morning News – something he’s confident will happen, though he’s still awaiting the final word, he said.

Making Dreams a Reality

Obed isn’t a stranger to writing competitions. He isn’t even a stranger to winning them.

As a senior in high school, he won top honors among all first-place writing award winners at the Dallas Morning News’ High School Journalism Day in 2010 for his portfolio of political columns. A judge called his work “superb” and praised his ability to simplify complex topics, according to an article printed in the Dallas Morning News in March 2010.

Obed seemed destined to be a writer.

When Mountain View College didn’t have a student newspaper, Obed worked to create one. The 2010 graduate of Skyline High School recruited 10 students, the number necessary to start a student club, and submitted the paperwork. Due to budget cuts, however, he was unable to find a sponsor – a setback that didn’t derail him for long.

Obed contacted Brookhaven and Richland colleges, knowing that both had an established newspaper. His gut told him that the Brookhaven Courier, a smaller newspaper with the possibility of more opportunities, would be the better fit, and he was right.

Within a month and a half of starting at the Courier, Obed was promoted from staff writer to copy editor. A semester later, Derek Madrigal made headlines as a local hero.

Derek’s efforts to defend a woman at a party resulted in a brutal attack that almost took his life. Having met Derek previously in a journalism class the two shared, Obed knew Derek personally. In fact, Derek had been one of the first people Obed had met at Brookhaven College.

Obed was assigned to the story, and since he was representing the college newspaper, Derek and his father opened their doors for an exclusive interview. The story was a great scoop for the Courier and a “big break” for Obed.

“It was cool,” Obed said. “They weren’t really letting the media in, but they let me in because I was from Brookhaven.”

After the interview, Obed wrote. He created two stories for the Courier. He’d had no intention of submitting a biography for the Mayborn contest – he didn’t have enough time.

However, when Mayborn pushed the contest’s submission deadline back a month, Obed decided to go for it. He already had a compelling story, an in-depth interview, and now, the time.

The rest is history, and not to mention an important piece of Obed’s résumé.

A natural talent, Obed gives props to Brookhaven College for its staff and teaching style.

Having only met Obed once in the Student Services Center, Dr. Thom Chesney, Brookhaven College president, remembered Obed and would say “hi” when he’d see Obed around campus.

“He really impressed me,” Obed said about his encounters with the president.

Obed also thanks Daniel and Ahad Hayaud-Din, social science professor, for providing him with positive experiences and opportunities. The college and its journalism program was an integral part of his pathway to success.

“In any academic and professional career, there are stepping stones. Brookhaven was a major step,” Obed said. “For a place so far from home, it was easy to adapt – adapt to the style of teaching here.”

Obed is transferring to the University of North Texas in the Fall, where he plans to earn his bachelor’s in journalism.