2010 NSPA Story of the Year Winners
co-sponsored by the American Society of News Editors
View NSPA press release
View judges' comments
Eva Cover, Jake Dolgenos
Ink, Georgiana Bruce Kirby Preparatory School, Santa Cruz, Calif.
http://www.kirby.org/newspaper/v6i7.pdf (page 5)
The Squall, Dexter HS, Dexter, Mich.
The Harbinger, Shawnee Mission East HS, Prairie Village, Kan.
Sami Haddad, Victoria Ison
Fused, Bloomington HS North, Bloomington, Ind.
The Shield, McCallum HS, Austin, Texas
The Prowl, Coral Glades HS, Coral Springs, Fla.
Mount Carmel Sun, Mount Carmel HS, San Diego, Calif.
http://issuu.com/mcsunorg/docs/fullissue7 (page A4)
The Royal Page, Hopkins HS, Minnetonka, Minn.
Dorothy A. Thomas
Carpe Diem, Decatur HS, Decatur, Ga.
Featherduster, Westlake HS, Austin, Texas
The Tam News, Tamalpais HS, Mill Valley, Calif.
Tribal Tribune, Wando HS, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
Century Star, Century HS, Bismarck, N.D.
The Nexus, Westview HS, San Diego, Calif.
Pacer, Rolling Meadows HS, Rolling Meadows, Ill.
Purple Gem, Bowling Green HS, Bowling Green, Ky.
The Royal News, Prince George HS, Prince George, Va.
Emily Lam, Jordan Souza
The Hub, Davis Sr. HS, Davis, Calif.
The Lion, Lyons Township HS, La Grange, Ill.
The Spartana, Homestead HS, Fort Wayne, Ind.
The Marquee, Marcus HS, Flower Mound, Texas
Ike Swetlitz, Emma Weissmann
The Central Times, Naperville Central HS, Naperville, Ill.
Tribal Tribune, Wando HS, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.
Vanguard, Stevenson HS, Sterling Heights, Mich.
The Hub, Davis Sr. HS, Davis, Calif.
Shannon Moss, Dana Rapport
Inklings, Staples HS, Westport, Conn.
Sophie Cheng, Emily Zheng
The Oracle, Henry M. Gunn HS, Palo Alto, Calif.
Julie Yang, Jessica Bailey
Warrior's Word, Wausau West HS, Wausau, Wis.
Liz Bravacos, Meghan Morris
The Spoke, Conestoga HS, Berwyn, Pa.
Prep Press, University Prep HS, Seattle, Wash.
Reporters Eva Cover and Jake Dolgenos “went deep” to examine how the need for water has driven agriculture and economic development, and politics, in California. They plowed through court decisions, environmental regulations, crop reports and the economic strategies of specialty food producers and water companies. Their report was lengthy, but they made it easier to digest by breaking it up into five segments framed by a prologue and epilogue focusing on how Los Angeles lubricated its growth by diverting water to the city from the nearby Owens Valley. Throughout, the reporters used events from the past to explain contemporary circumstances. Their story was smartly executed, well-written. It was also refreshingly contrarian in that it got past the hum-drum of everyday school activities to spur critical thinking on a crucial public issue, which arguably should be one of the highest callings for a good high school newspaper.
A courageous effort by the newspaper to put into perspective a community-wide controversy, over the paper’s coverage, that has led that has its critics to persuade the school board to consider a range of content-controlling proposals ranging up to pre-publication review of stories – a seeming over-reaction that would amount to flat-out censorship. Critics have set up a blog set up to organize and publicize largely anonymous attacks on the paper, its adviser and the school’s principal. Rize’s story surfaced a pivotal issue: whether the critics want most of all to shoot the messenger for “promoting” off-school-premises parties and other allegedly offensive practices by reporting about them, rather than face up to realities that merit coverage. Yet the story was done in an even-handed way, with the critics’ concerns getting a fair hearing.
Heley’s solidly reported and tightly written look at the rising case loads of overdoses from OxyContin and heroin served up a classic warning to students, and to the larger community in suburban Johnson County, about the dangers of getting hooked on these drugs. His story was a powerful blend of interviews, use of documents and background material. Particularly effective was an interview with a senior at Shawnee Mission East, who managed to get OxyContin through prescriptions for a year to the drug without his parents being aware of his addiction. Well-constructed story with good quotes, sprinkled throughout, that kept it flowing well.
HM: Sami Haddad
Haddad and Ison navigated through a labyrinth of school financing provisions to tell the story of how this system has put growing school districts – in particular Indiana’s Franklin Township Community School Corporation – in a serious financial squeeze. They tell their story from the perspective of the Franklin schools, but balance that viewpoint with information from other sources. The result stands as a model for examining the complexities involved in financing our public schools.
HM: Amelia Hollis
Lost in the fierce debates about immigration is the plight of undocumented students who arrived in the U.S. as children and, through no fault of their own, have come to be considered as illegal aliens. They can’t vote, can’t get driver’s licenses and can’t land legal employment. Amelia Hollis described the harsh effects of this status on one student, offered suggestions on how those affected can cope with the situation and showed how proposed legislation could resolve the problem. She gave these victims of circumstances, caught in nightmarish situations, reason for hope.
HM: Molly Schulson
This year, Florida legislators passed a controversial law that would have made the state the first in the nation to tie teachers’ pay partly to the test scores of their students. The law also would have taken away $900 million annually from local school districts. The Prowl sent Molly Schulson to Tallahassee to cover Gov. Charlie Crist’s veto of the bill. She came back with a comprehensive story that described well the successful efforts of the education community, led by an unusually strong alliance of teachers and students, to fight this legislation. Some may see these kinds of stories are “too political” for a high school paper, but in an era of increasingly harsh budget cuts, it seems appropriate to devote more resources to such coverage.
This is an unorthodox approach to a recovery story but highly effective, especially for your readers. It has the element of truth - a young woman trying to puzzle out her friendship with a druggie young man on the cusp of jail as the two have an early morning colloquy in a car. It reads like a scene from a film and stayed with me for a longtime because of its rooted honesty.
An even-handed treatment of teenage pregnancy, the best of several submitted.
A good piece on the troubled interface between the net and school environment.
HM: Tribal Tribune
This low-key portrait conveys more about homelessness than the usual statistics... the "ghost" quote says it all.
This is one intelligent and articulate gay student who accomplishes his goal of representing homosexuality well in a well-conducted interview.
HM: Carpe Diem
A frank and informative piece about a persistent issue – date rape.
Comments on top finishers:
Many of the top stories transcended sports, including the top two places and a couple of the honorable mentions, transcended sports. They took sports-related topics and explored bigger life issues like overcoming adversity (Rolling On story about student with Spina Bifida), communities coming together in the face of death (Allison loses Dad) or serious injury (Trauma near the track). These stories put sports in a different, deeper context than individual games themselves.
The writing in the third place story (Turf Trepidation) could have been slightly tighter in spots. What set this story apart were good sourcing (comments from administrators in other school districts that had artificial turf), good use of numbers (cost of what it would take to install artificial turf at all district schools) and perhaps most importantly, the use of graphics and a sidebar to further tell the story. The head shots and pull quotes from five individuals might have been clunky inside the story narrative but set apart it provided excellent additional context. The illustration of field turf was simple but educational in explaining just what makes up what the story was about.
Winners generally did a great job of scene setting in the lede.
The stories that won awards typically cited several interviews in the story, sometimes more than necessary. It was evident the writers were intent on telling the story from as many angles and as completely as possible.
There was a lot of setup-quote, setup-quote. Quotes are important but they should be used sparingly and only in cases where the source says something that is more compelling than what the writer could paraphrase.
When you are writing about an event or tournament or series of games that happened several weeks or months ago try to find something besides the time element for your lede. There isn’t a need to put a specific date in the first paragraph.
I don’t want to discourage writers from taking chances and being creative in writing, especially in ledes. But be careful that the pop culture reference or the witty turn of phrase doesn’t confuse readers about what the story is actually about. In the end a simple sentence that gets the point across trumps a creative line that leaves readers wondering what they just read.
There were several very solid profile subjects. But the best profiles include interviews and comments with more than just the profile subject. Many of the profiles entered in this contest were generally well written but would have benefited from conversations with parents, coaches, friends and other influential people in their lives.
Re-read your work. A lot of stories that were eliminated had grammatical or structural mistakes that could have been fixed easily. Writing well requires a lot of re-writing.
Quotes are almost never the best way to start a story.
General Comments: There were a lot of really good entries this year, so thank you to everyone who entered. In order to pick the best of the entries, I was looking for editorial pieces with adequate research, a strong position, and a topic that mattered to the high school. For your newspaper to be relevant and unique, writers should always focus on local issues and school policies instead of national topics. Keep the piece concise and strong, but also make it speak to your audience. I ended up picking a number of entries as winners because they did something that isn't easy to do: Call out your peers. It's easy to point fingers and assign blame to a poor school administration, but it's even harder to call out your classmates for their poor choices and behavior. For a student paper to come out against student drinking, bullying, and other forms of disrespect shows a strong newspaper with the guts to take a stance some might disagree with. And if you can offer suggestions rather than just criticize your school's actions (in budget situations, for example) it shows you are able to not only have a critical eye but also provide serious solutions.
Breaking news is rare at a high school and, because of publication schedules, rarely covered in real time. Shalhevet High School's The Boiling Point faced a true breaking news story: Its head of school announced his resignation abruptly in the middle of the school year. The staff more than met the challenge of reporting the story while it was going on. By reproducing emails, doing shoe-leather reporting and interviewing the people involved, The Boiling Point was able to piece together a great package of stories and video that blooms from a one-sentence email sent close to midnight into a comprehensive collection of pieces about the principal, his accomplishments and a confused school population.
Moving beyond the superficial is an accomplishment at any level of reporting. This package of stories, video and audio about a student named Mandy Li is a testament to what can be accomplished when a staff digs deeper. One angle is her Chinese heritage and lack of English skills. Another her mother marrying a man from Pennsylvania off the Internet. Still another her love of math and of the arts -- especially the piano. But the staff of Penn Points pulled together all of those elements and more in this detailed look at an extraordinary young woman.
Not all journalism is Pulitzer material. Sometimes utility and fun must enter the mix or you're creating something no one wants to visit. This fun, but useful page from the Dart shows a variety of iPhone apps that students might find useful, from a flashcard app to Facebook.
This look at an art teacher's vision for transforming an ugly retaining wall into a glass tile mosaic is a wonderful window on how these type of projects are conceived, carried out and completed. Penn Points' story and videos show the incredible amount of effort needed to complete the task.