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Top school paper
The four-member delegation from Hasbrouck Heights walked casually out of the hall at the National High School Journalism Convention, assuming they would go home empty-handed.
But when officials announced that their newspaper, the Pilots Log, has won first place in the best of show competition, advisers Lora Geftic and Paul Pankiewicz and co-editors in chief Laura Gorman and Kristen Mattei all froze.
"It was the first time my jaw has literally dropped," Mattei said.
More than 350 schools from around the country were represented at the annual conference sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association.
The newspaper were divided into groups according to size and judged on coverage, layout, graphics, editorial leadership, and other categories, said Jessica Hampton, the contest critique coordinator for the NSPA.
The judges rated the Pilots Log superior overall.
The Pilots Log beat out 34 other newspapers in its division, but Geftic said winning the award was even more special in light of the budgets of their competitors.
"We publish five times a year and have a $3,000 budget," Geftic said. "Some of the schools in California have an average budget of $35,000."
The Pilots Log is funded solely by the school district, unlike other high school newspapers which sell ads to earn revenue.
Although their resources are limited, Pankiewicz said the 50 reporters, photographers, editors, designers, and artists know how to make do with less.
"We have three computers, and they crash often," Pankiewicz said. "We have all learned our lesson to save often."
Students use their journalism class time and their free periods to develop ideas, report, write, and edit the stories that some people may construe as controversial, Geftic said. The paper has published stories on a wide range of sensitive topics, including acne, the abortion pill, sex, and the party drug ecstasy. The next issue will deal with the changing definition of the family unit.
The advisers help shape the ideas, but the stories are produced buy the students, Geftic said.
"They write about what matters to them as teenagers," Geftic said. "Thats the whole point."
The student editors said the freedom to address the topics they choose has helped the staff develop a sense of pride in their product, which in turn leads to better work.
Every time the newspaper is passed out during the homeroom period, the senior co-editors still become anxious about how their product will be received by classmates.
"I think, Wow, we made that, and everyone likes it," Gorman said.
"And when they dont, we get all defensive," Mattei added.
Ronald Bonadonna, president of the Garden State Scholastic Press Association, said he was not surprised by the papers success at the national competition, although the hotbeds of high school journalism are traditionally in North Carolina, South Carolina, Missouri, and Indiana.
"We run a contest every year, and the Pilots Log has always done extremely well," Bonadonna said. "I attribute it to the kids and Laura . She is a first-rate adviser."
Dr. Richard Stepura, the superintendent of schools, shared the expectation of success in national competition despite the monetary handicap.
"It goes to show that effort does count," Stepura said. Especially against that kind of competition."
Peter OHare, principal of the school, acknowledged that the school has made a conscious effort over the past five years to develop quality.
"We have a lot of students involved who have a great deal of pride in the paper," OHare said. "As the quality continues, the challenge is to do better."
Hopefully, the task of improving upon their success will be undertaken by even more students, Geftic said. The adviser expects the national recognition to help the paper attract even more students to the staff.
"This was a big deal to us" Geftic said. "We are the only newspaper in the state of New Jersey to win this.
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