Greenport journalism students win award from Columbia program

JULIE LANE PHOTO | The student journalists at Greenport High School have been rewarded for their outstanding work.

Greenport student journalists have earned a silver medal in a Columbia Scholastic Press Association competition involving hundreds of school districts from the Northeast to the Midwest.

Their performance was evaluated based on issues of The Quill published during the 2010-11 school year.

The press association, affiliated with Columbia University’s School of Journalism, critiques student newspapers, magazines, yearbooks and online media, selecting the best for its awards and providing critiques to guide students in improving their publications.

“The CSPA’s contests are not about compelling involuntary changes by student editors and faculty advisers of student print and online media,” according to the group’s website. But publications are judged on content, accuracy, layout, writing ability and even salesmanship in securing advertisers.

Gold medals go to schools that score between 800 and 1,000 points. Silver medals are awarded to those the earn 600 to 799 points.

Greenport needs about 100 points more to win a gold for this year’s papers, said Quill adviser Luke Conti.

“It’s exciting and we worked hard for it,” senior Erin Creedon, 17, said of the silver medal. “We kind of knew we could do it — it was within our grasp.”

She gives last year’s layout editor, Alexa Suess, 17 and now a senior, much of the credit for improving The Quill. Ms. Suess is this year’s editor-in-chief. But Mr. Conti said Ms. Creedon and 15-year-old Briana Pagano, a sophomore, will take on some of the editing this year to enable Ms. Suess to continue concentrating on layout.

“She’s just so talented” when it comes to design, Mr. Conti said.

Ms. Suess, in turn, credits “some really dedicated writers” with this year’s award, while also acknowledging that the paper’s layout has improved.

“I just wanted to modernize it,” she said of the redesign. “It just needed to be a new paper.”

Photographer Zoe Vayer, a 17-year-old senior, said last year’s papers contained more and better photos that made better use of lighting.

Moving up to gold medal status will be a challenge, Mr. Conti said.

Last year, journalism was an elective class. This year, he said, it has become an extracurricular activity. That makes it more difficult to sign on student journalists and he’s down to 15 from about 25 last year.

The Columbia judges made several recommendations on how to The Quill move up to gold. For example, they urged students to deal with more upcoming rather than past events and suggested bringing more of a local angle to national issues.

Perhaps the most challenging of the judges’ recommendations was to secure more local advertising, Mr. Conti said. That’s difficult in a small community in the current economic climate. Still, he’s encouraging students to go out and speak with local merchants and to expand their community outreach when working on stories. Students tend to sometimes be very shy about interviewing people, he said.

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