2023 APSE Contest winner Payton Titus covering a South Carolina women’s basketball game (Photo provided by Payton Titus)
June 6, 2024

The State’s Payton Titus reflects on award winning C Beat Coverage

Matt Guzman

Payton Titus witnessed one of the sports’ more memorable moments in early April 2024.

After an entire season of covering winning women’s basketball — the South Carolina Gamecocks never lost a game in the 2023-24 season — everything came to a head in the championship game. South Carolina faced off against the Iowa Hawkeyes and their nationally acclaimed star, Caitlin Clark. Still, despite the tall task that presented, it was able to snag a win en route to coach Dawn Staley’s third title.

Having just completed her first season as a beat reporter, Titus was there to experience it. 

As she looked around the arena, which was raining confetti from the rafters, she noticed one player in particular on the Gamecocks’ squad. She had curly hair — colored on one side — and a new hat reading “National Champions.” Her name? Te-Hina Paopao. 

“This is a team effort,” Paopao said to an ESPN reporter just a few minutes after the final buzzer had sounded. “We’ve come a long way. I’m just so proud.” 

Titus had written a feature on the senior transfer from Oregon leading into the season, detailing her early-morning workouts and intense pride in her culture and family. It was one of her personal favorite stories she’d gotten the chance to write and a part of her winning APSE Division C beat-writing package. 

“I enjoyed talking with her family,” Titus said of the story. “She has a really nice personal story of being proud of her culture and her family. (They) always show up … in this little corner of the gymnasium no matter where she goes, so being able to write about that was cool and fun.” 

Titus’ Paopao feature was among three other stories and a newsletter that her editor, Dwayne McLemore, submitted to APSE on her behalf, which ultimately tied Lincoln Journal Star’s Brent Wagner for first place, and for good reason. It had meaning and a solid connection to South Carolina’s program and the surrounding community. 

The rest of her stories did, too. But despite how well-written they were, Titus didn’t think she was going to win anything when McLemore gave her a list of stories to choose from before sending it off.

“I just figured you had to cast a wide net and just see what comes back,” Titus said. “I was like ‘OK, I’ll play the game,’ because I had literally just started. … But I ended up (having) three top-10 finishes.” 

Titus won first place in the Division C Beat Writing category, fourth in the Short Feature category, and eighth in the Long Feature category—though she didn’t know those specifics at first—just that she had placed.

The 2022 SJI alum was among seven program graduates who finished in the Top 10 of various categories and divisions in the annual contest. They were Frank Bonner, Candace Buckner (2001), Damichael Cole (2019), Kyle Goon (2010), Tashan Reed (2018), Richard Silva (2022), and Parth Upadhyaya (2019).

“I kind of looked at it and was like ‘Very cool, very cool. I don’t need to know what place I came in’,” Titus said.

Covering a championship-winning team was a significant milestone for the journalist, as was learning of her first-place ranking in APSE’s competition. Still, she’s not in it for the awards—just the journalism.

Since then, Titus hasn’t stopped working to improve her writing, storytelling, and reporting. 

“I have definitely grown a lot,” Titus said. “I’ve learned how to actually be a beat writer. Having covered a full season, I’ve gotten more comfortable with my voice and leaning into my authority as a beat writer.

“I feel like I can take a little bit more liberty in trying to explain the dynamics of everything going on.” 

Matt Guzman will intern at the Kansas City Star this summer.

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