You're out of the dark,
You're out of the night.
Step into the sun,
Step into the light.
Just like that, the darkness of Thursday’s issue was brightened by the light of Friday.
Validation comes in many forms but one of the very nicest for a high school journalism teacher is a medal from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. On Friday I received the newspaper's critique for last year's paper - a Gold Medal!
Any paper that scores in the top range wins gold: We are not ranked against other papers, only against the scorebook criteria. Because we produce 16 issues a year, when all that is required is six, we can't do what schools that spend a month or more on an issue can do. We can't do much long-form journalism (800-1000 words), we don't have time for complicated graphics, our layouts can sometimes be simple. The judges ding us for all those things.
What we can do, that no other high school paper in my county does, is cover breaking news as it's happening. We are timely and relevant and fast-paced, which for me is what journalism should be. I leave the other stuff to other forums - news magazines, my yearbook, the literary magazine. This year CSPA rewarded us for doing what we do best. The comments were overwhelmingly positive and the constructive feedback was specific and detailed and we can use it to improve immediately. Our readers will see changes in just eight days.
On Friday I went through the critique with the staff. I had each student fill in a T-chart with the two columns labeled plus and delta. As we went through each comment on the critique, the staff wrote down what they already did well (plus) and what they personally were going to change (delta). After I look them over I will post them in my classroom. Our strongest praise came in areas like style. Keeping the AP Stylebook on my desk pays off. Side note: I just leaned AP style is this – “Wi-Fi”. That entry was definitely not in my first AP Guide in 1989. Our weakest areas were in our op-ed pages, which we've already given a complete overhaul, and in localizing our coverage. I harp on the kids about this constantly but they WANT to write about national news - it's fascinating to them - and they think interviewing students and getting their opinions on it makes it local. This has always been a hard area for me to push them in but hopefully hearing it from CSPA will help.
CSPA awards feel good, but they’re not why we do what we do. Our job is to serve our readers – the students and parents of Wootton High School and our larger community. If we provide our readers with news and opinion and features and sports coverage that they can’t get anywhere else; if we are getting teenagers to read and think about topics outside their small worlds; if we hold our faculty and administration accountable for their policies and decision, then we have succeeded.
That said, the most important thing I told my staff is that the medal is an award to every single one of them. Every single one of them makes the paper strong. I am so, so proud of them. They are always pushing themselves, and each other, to write better, report more thoroughly, design more elegantly. This drive to grow and improve is hard but it is what makes them great, and it is what will make them great in whatever they end up doing in life. To quote Tom Hanks in “A League of Their Own:” “Of course it’s hard. The hard is what makes it great. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”