TRAINEE journalist Charles Thomson has helped put South East Essex College on the map after winning a top award with part of his final project.

The 21-year-old, of Great Gregorie, Basildon, picked up a special commendation award for feature writing at the prestigious Guardian Student Media Awards.

The former BA (Hons) Journalism degree student, who studied in Southend, credits the college’s course for the win.

Charles said: “It’s the biggest and most prestigious ceremony in the country for young journalists. If there is any kind of endorsement that will help you on your way, it is the Guardian award.”

Despite graduating less than two months ago, Charles has already been published in Mojo magazine, American black music journal Wax Poetics and the Sun newspaper.

He said: “I know of people who got a first or a 2:1 in their journalism degree and they can’t get a job because they don’t have enough experience. They know the theory behind journalism, but they can’t really write a story.

“The fact the course was so vocational really put us ahead of people at other universities who spend more time writing essays than writing stories.”

His award is even more impressive as the commendation was only introduced in the feature writing category to acknowledge the strength of his article, James Brown: the Lost Album, about the man known as the Godfather of Soul. It was written as part of his final student project, a black music magazine called Jive.

The judging panel of Guardian writers said: “The feature was an extraordinary, sustained piece on James Brown, a poignant portrait of a man in his last days.”

One judge commented: “I thought it was the best piece of student journalism I’d read in a long time, if not ever.”

The college’s three-year journalism degree is designed to meet the creative interests of students and the expectations of employers and training bodies, such as the National Council for the Training of Journalists.

Course leader Helen Hewland said: “Students write profile features, in-depth features and colour pieces. We hope more of our students will feel encouraged by Charlie’s success.”

As well as the accolade, Charles won a week-long placement at the Guardian headquarters and has already set his sights on writing for the paper.

To read Charles’ article, visit