University of Florida's Jon Silman and Steven Gallo react to finding out they both won first place in their respective Hearst National Championships, writing for Silman and radio broadcast for Gallo, on June 7, 2012 during the 52nd Hearst National Journalism Championship, organized by the William Randolph Hearst Foundation held in San Francisco from June 4 - 7, 2012. The Championship comprises writing, photojournalism, multimedia, broadcast TV and radio competitions.

Courtesy of Erin Lubin

Jon Silman failed the first assignment he turned in to his future mentor.

Kelley Benham thought the Fall 2010 magazine and feature writing article was “A” material, but then she found a misspelled name.

One fact error means an “F” for UF journalism students.

Silman, a Santa Fe College transfer who previously battled addiction, redid the article and won Benham over.

Almost two years later, the Tampa Bay Times enterprise editor found herself awake at 2 a.m. Friday to hear that Silman, 29, won the National Writing Championship of the Hearst Journalism Awards Program in San Francisco.

He wasn’t the only Gator who did. Telecommunication senior Steven Gallo, 20, placed first in radio broadcast news. Eight students in each of the five categories competed for the college Pulitzers and the $5,000 prizes.

Silman said his reward is getting to report as his job. He interned for a year and worked at the Alligator. Now he is a cops reporter at the Gainesville Sun.

“I love it so much, I don’t mind waking up at 7:30,” he said.

A profile about a widow who learned her late husband was gay landed him a finalist position in April.

Gallo got his spot with a feature about an opera-singing chef in Italy and a news story about the execution of convicted murderer Manuel Valle.

Gallo, who has worked with WUFT’s radio and television stations, was able to interview the son of the police officer Valle was convicted of killing. That story also won him national awards with the Society of Professional Journalists and the Radio Television Digital News Association.

Shortly before Gallo arrived in San Francisco Monday, he learned he’d be reporting on technology and privacy. He narrowed the topic to focus on how San Francisco police used cameras to scan nearby license plates.

He had less than two days to report and about one to compile and edit.

“It’s kind of like being pushed out of a plane with a parachute in a city — and for me an entire state and a coastline — that I’ve never been to before and being told to do a story in a day,” he said.

But knowing that he could do it was empowering, he said. It gives him hope for his internship with an NBC affiliate television station and his future career.

Donna Green-Townsend, features unit executive producer at WUFT-FM, said Gallo has the ability to get people to talk and a tireless work ethic.

She’s seen Gallo work in every WUFT position he could.

This experience is what Green-Townsend thinks makes the difference for students.

“This is not just a little news lab,” she said. “This is the real deal.”

Contact Clare Lennon at [email protected].