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Deadline! Student essays on free press could win cash prizes, full scholarship

The National Student Essay Competition, supported by TucsonSentinel.com, will award $5,000 prizes to national winners — along with a full four-year college scholarship to the top essayist.

The competition is open to students from grade 6 through college.

But the deadline to enter with a 500-word essay on the importance of press freedom in the United States is soon: Friday, April 24.

The competition offers students in grades 6 through 8, grades 9 through 12, and those at universities and colleges an opportunity to reflect on the importance of a free press and to vie for $15,000 in cash awards from the Boston Globe Foundation and a full, four-year scholarship (current total value: $152,000) at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.

With many students at home, studying online, "the contest is a great way to consider the crucial role the press is playing during this crisis while competing for significant awards," said Mary Kay Lazarus, director of the National Student Essay Competition.

TucsonSentinel.com has joined with the McCarthey Family Foundation, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and media outlets from around the country, and is hosting the essay contest in Southern Arizona.

Essays will be judged on originality and thoughtfulness in addressing the topic of "Why a free press matters in a democracy." Students are asked to email their essay of no more than 500 words as a double-spaced Word document to editor@tucsonsentinel.com.

All entries must include a header that includes the student's name, phone number, email address, mailing address, name and department of the school and grade/year in which the student is currently enrolled, as well as a reference to TucsonSentinel.com.

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The cash awards and scholarship are scheduled to be presented at the 15th Annual McCarthey Family Foundation Lecture Series: In Praise of Independent Journalism, on Nov. 7 in Salt Lake City.

The top local essayists will be announced in June. The top-ranked local essays, and other selected essays, may be published by TucsonSentinel.com.

"Students now at home across the country know all too well how quickly circumstances can change. At a time when journalists are taking great risks to cover the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. and abroad, the Committee to Protect Journalists is proud to support this timely national student essay competition designed to highlight precisely why the free press is so essential," said Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the journalism group.

The competition aims not only to cultivate an informed and enlightened public but also to encourage an understanding of the 1st Amendment that strengthens freedom of the press and rebuilds trust.

"We believe there is no more important time than now to focus conversation and critical reflection on understanding the crucial relationships among the1st  Amendment, a free press, and the foundations of democracy," Lazarus said.

The honorary advisory committee for the national contest includes Pulitzer Prize-winning presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, Pulitzer-winning presidential biographer Jon Meacham, political scientist Norman Orenstein, Harvard Law Prof. Laurence Tribe, inaugural Jamal Khashoggi fellow Hala Al-Dosari, and many others.

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