For the first time in the award’s history, the editor of the MEA Voice magazine has been honored as the Editor of the Year among all the NEA state affiliates.
Brenda Ortega was recognized with the honor at the recent State Education Affiliate Communicators (SEAComm) conference, where members of the MEA Public Affairs team also took home prizes for excellent communications work over the past year.
An accomplished journalist with stops at the Associated Press and as an education reporter for the Los Angeles Times, Ortega earned her master’s degree in education and began a second career as a high school English teacher. After award-winning work in Jackson County classrooms, she joined the MEA staff in 2016, combining her passions for telling stories and educating students into her role as MEA’s editor.
“With Brenda, we get the best of both worlds – an incomparable storyteller with a keen sense of what our members are feeling,” said MEA Public Affairs Director Doug Pratt in his nomination of Ortega. “Brenda has a skill in finding the member stories that dovetail with the key issues at play in schools today – from book banning to LGBTQ+ rights to school safety.
“She can tell the tough stories to draw your tears — as she did covering the aftermaths of school shootings in Oxford and at MSU within a year and a half of each other — and the softer stories that inspire action and greatness.”
In a video honoring Ortega at the June ceremony in Chicago, MEA President Paula Herbart praised her work “lifting up every educator’s voice – not just teachers in the classroom but also our education support professionals and higher education members. She tries to ensure that every voice is part of the conversation. That she is telling stories that are meaningful to our members and to our students who we serve.”
MEA was also awarded with Best in Show for Writing, competing against every other state affiliates’ entries in the annual awards contest for news stories, features, advocacy, opinion/editorials and more.
Another video recognizing the team’s work noted that the judged consistently offered perfect scores for the writing submitted, including:
- Ortega’s coverage of the Oxford school shooting;
- Her feature story about the role educators played in Anthony Ianni’s journey to becoming the first Division I college basketball player on the autism spectrum and earning a college degree;
- Her series of stories about MEA members’ advocacy around student mental health challenges;
- And team member Zach Crim’s op-ed with MEA member Jaime Churches on how her students inspired her (ultimately successful) run for the state Legislature.
Aside from winning individual awards for these stories, MEA Public Affairs staff also won for excellent visual communications work. Miriam Garcia won an award of distinction for Photography for her coverage of a spring gun safety rally with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. And Rachel Beyer took home an award of distinction for her graphic design work on the MEA Membership Roadmap.