Christopher Columbus High School
Each year, the National Scholastic Press Association recognizes excellence in student media with scholastic journalism’s preeminent award, the Pacemaker. Pacemakers are awarded in each category of publication — online, newspaper, yearbook, magazine and broadcast.
Teams of media professionals judge entries based on the following criteria: coverage and content, quality of writing and reporting, leadership, design, photography and graphics.
NSPA contacted executive producer Christopher Vazquez of 2016 Daily Broadcast Pacemaker recipient CCNN Live for a Q&A. CCNN Live is the student-run video broadcast program of Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Florida.
NSPA: What were the goals going into last year, and how did you ensure those goals were met?
Christopher Vazquez, executive producer: Our goals going into last year were to top ourselves after the year before. We had won awards from Student Television Network, the Florida Scholastic Press Association and NSPA. After that, we were hungry for more. We worked toward those goals by dedicating ourselves to our journalism. If a story broke, we did our best to get on the scene. If we had an idea for a feature story, we pursued it relentlessly until we were confident that the finished product was our best work yet.
NSPA: Tell us about a moment you will remember the most about this staff.
CV: One moment I’ll remember the most about this staff occurred the night that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died. One member of our publication went out to start shooting B-roll that very night, while I stayed conducted research and prepared talking points for interviews early the following morning. We went out the next morning into the street to record history. I looked to my left and to my right, and saw staffers and friends willing to give up a Saturday morning on their Thanksgiving break, and dedicated to telling this story with me to the best of our ability.
NSPA: What does the Pacemaker mean to you?
CV: To me, the Pacemaker means that our hard work paid off. It means that every early morning running around the control room and every sleepless night making sure the show was ready for the following day was worth it. It’s a symbol that tells us when we strive for something, when our staff comes together, when our reporting is fair and balanced and compelling, our determination does not go unrewarded.
NSPA: What was the toughest moment you faced last year? The most exciting/rewarding?
CV: The toughest moment of last year was not being named as a finalist for the All American High School Film Festival’s documentary category. After an entire summer of tiring yet fulfilling work, we had completed our first documentary film and were proud of the finished product. But when I didn’t hear our name called at the festival’s awards ceremony, so many questions went through my head: will the same thing happen to us in other competitions like NSPA? What will the rest of the staff think when we come back home? Do I even have a future as a journalist? That attitude changed when we hung up our Pacemaker on our wall. Seeing the award for the first time was one of the most rewarding moments of last year. I realized the excitement of being recognized for a piece of journalism that I was actively involved in reporting and producing, and I knew that I might have a future in this field after all.
NSPA also heard from CCNN Live adviser Oma Delgado.
NSPA: Tell us a little bit about the editors and staff of your Pacemaker-winning publication.
Oma Delgado, adviser: Our students are incredibly hardworking. I am always impressed with the amount of dedication they put into our show and our stories. They are very thorough with their research, and it shows in their work.
NSPA: How did the staff ensure the quality of the publication?
OD: Every upperclassman has to mentor an underclassman. It becomes what we call the circle of life. The underclassman have to step up to continue the legacy the older students have left behind. Everyone is held accountable for what they contribute to the publication.
NSPA: Is there any one issue, story, photo, package, etc. that stood out during the year?
OD: Our boys worked all summer long to tell the story of the Castaways against Cancer. They created a 20-minute documentary that ended up winning several awards throughout the year. The men kayak 161 nautical miles to raise money to fund cancer research and our boys really got into the story. They learned a lot about the cancer and the trip itself. The bond they made covering that story was priceless.
NSPA: Tell us about a hardship or obstacle you felt your staff overcame.
OD: We went to the Student Television Network Convention and, for the first time in three years, did not place in the Crazy 8 competition. The boys were heartbroken but banded together and lifted each other up afterward. It’s a true testament to the family atmosphere we have created in our club.
NSPA: What qualities will you remember the most about this Pacemaker-winning staff?
OD: The brotherhood that they have is amazing. There really are no egos in this group. They cheer for each other and want each other to succeed. They really are a little family.
NSPA: What does the Pacemaker mean to you and your staff?
OD: It really does validate all the hard work that the put into CCNN Liveday in and day out. It is always nice to be recognized as a top-end program.