I still remember being puzzled and pleasantly surprised to receive a tweet from another California high school publication congratulating my newspaper students for being nominated for an Online Pacemaker award in spring 2013. I was thrown off because while I did enter the national competition – as I do every year – I didn’t really expect the news website to be a finalist. I submitted the entry thinking that if we win, it’s great and if we don’t, at least we tried.
The students had only been publishing their own website since the beginning of that school year (August 2012) and were using a free website that a university on the east coast hosted. While that website allowed us more flexibility than the previous my.hsj.org site we had, it wasn’t as visually pleasing as our current School Newspapers Online website is. When I texted the student editors the great news of their nomination, they were ecstatic. The Pacemaker is the highest honor a high school publication can earn. I like to tell the students it’s the student media equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize.
While the students didn’t win the Online Pacemaker Award that April at the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association national high school journalism convention in San Francisco, they did come home with a finalist plaque. And they were beaming with pride because it validated all the long hours and hard work they put into the online publication. Since then, my students have been finalists again for an Online Pacemaker and a Newspaper Pacemakers. While they have come away as finalists three times, they aren’t discouraged. They continue to produce the best high school journalism they can every year, award or no award.
So whether your journalism students are new and publishing their first issues or whether your school newspaper has a long history, consider entering their publications to contests. Most entries are free or have a nominal fee. And sometimes, very few publications enter, so your chances of placing or winning are good.
In addition to NSPA’s Pacemaker competition, some contests I’ve submitted our publications to are: The Los Angeles Press Club, which added a student category to its Southern California Journalism Awards a few years ago and the California Newspaper Publishers Association’s Campus Excellence in Journalism Awards.
One new contest you might consider entering is the California All-Stars contest, sponsored by the Southern California Journalism Education Association. (I am the board secretary of SCJEA). The competition is for newspaper, online news, yearbooks and broadcasts shows. Although SCJEA is organizing this, any publication in California is eligible to participate.
Entries are due by midnight on Jan. 21. Winners will be announced at the SCJEA write-offs on March 25 at Rancho Dominguez Prep School in Long Beach.