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January 20, 2004

Tattoo writer scores national award for Cambodia stories

BRISTOL — A teen journalist for The Tattoo captured a national feature writing award for his work detailing a trip to his parents’ Cambodian homeland.

Joe Keo, a junior at Bristol Eastern High School, garnered an honorable mention in the features category of the Suburban Newspapers Association national contest for his piece, "Crashing in Cambodia."

The 2003 Suburban Newspapers contest attracted nearly 2,000 entries from professional journalists, according to information provided by Nancy Lane, executive director of the group.

"Obviously it was a very competitive contest," Lane wrote in a press release. The staff of the American Press Institute judged the contest, said Lane.

Keo, 16, took the trip to Cambodia with his family in the summer of 2002. It was the first time the Bristol native had been out of the country or even on a plane.

"Everything was new," he said Monday, recalling the journey. He said he was struck by the poverty and corruption he saw firsthand in his parents’ homeland.

"America is totally different than Cambodia, both socially and geographically," said Keo.

Though afraid at first of what he might encounter, Keo grew fond of Cambodia and the relatives he met there. He said he was happy that he was able to share his experiences with others who read his work.

"People don’t know anything about Cambodia," said Keo. "When they read this, they find out."

His personal account of the journey — four full pages of stories, photos and cartoons he drew — was published online in The Tattoo in January 2003 and in The Bristol Press.

Keo has earned other honors for The Tattoo.

Last year, he placed first in the editorial cartoons category in a contest sponsored by the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists and in the features category of the Scholastic Press Forum’s yearly contest.

Keo also won a Gold Key award last year from the National Newspaper Association Foundation and the Quill and Scroll Society in a contest for American high school journalists. He won in the news story category for a piece he wrote about the skate park issue in Bristol.

Along with Keo, two other Tattoo writers also won Gold Keys in the 2003 Quill and Scroll Society contest.

Eastern junior Katie Jordan captured first-place awards in both the editorial cartoon and columns categories. Her Valentine's Day cartoon took top honors as did a piece she wrote called, "No religion means deeds, not beliefs, matter."

Another Eastern student, Mike Nguyen, made the cut to win first place in the reviews category with a glowing tribute to "American Idol." Nguyen, who graduated last year, is studying at Boston University.

The three Tattoo journalists were the only Connecticut high school students to win the national Quill and Scroll contest last year. "Crashing in Cambodia" is all online at, which includes nearly everything published by The Tattoo since its beginning in 1994. The award-winning work by Nguyen and Jordan can also be found on the website.

As journalists working for The Tattoo, which is published online and in The Bristol Press, teen writers have soared over Bristol in balloons and in the Hood blimp, interviewed Hollywood stars and presidential contenders, chatted with skateboard legend Tony Hawk and more.

Teen writers for the group work with advisors Steve Collins and Jackie Majerus, veteran Bristol Press reporters who each put in hundreds of volunteer hours every year to teach aspiring journalists the craft.

The Tattoo is not connected to any school, and welcomes all young writers, photographers and cartoonists.

It currently has students from both high schools in Bristol and has had local members who attended St. Paul Catholic High School, Terryville High School and Miss Porter’s School in Farmington. It also has writers who contribute from across the United States and around the world via the Internet, including Singapore, Pakistan, India, Ireland, England and Canada.

Award-winning pieces:

Crashing in Cambodia With Joe Keo - Main Story

Katie Jordan's Valentine's Day Cartoon 

No religion means deeds, not beliefs, matter

Superstar or stinko - the choice is yours on American Idol



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