By Karen Billing
The Torrey Pines High School newspaper, The Falconer, won fifth best in show at the JEA/National Scholastic Press Association National High School Journalism Convention held in Kansas City, Missouri in Nov. 11-14.
“I am very proud,” said Editor-in-Chief Jill Wong. “Considering the paper that won, our October issue, is only our second of the year, I think that’s pretty incredible.”
Several students won individual awards, including Jill Wong, a superior award for computer design infographic; Winnie Ma, excellent award in advertising; Nikita Mathew, a superior award in news editing and headline writing; Ben Bai, an honorable mention for commentary writing; Miharu Sugie, an honorable mention in editorial cartooning; Alexa Lomberg, an honorable mention in sports writing; and Daniel Liu, a superior award in editorial writing.
While some convention competitions were “carry in,” where students submitted already published works, many of the students who won the awards participated in “write-off” competitions at the convention. In a room of about 1,000 other student journalists, they received the information to write their article and were given a set time to complete it. A panel of judges then reviewed the work and handed out awards.
The Falconer publishes monthly, with recent issues tackling everything from student parking permits, a visit by San Diego Padres pitcher Heath Bell, alternative medicine, and varsity sports. A feature in the October issue looked at racial issues on campus.
“The level of commitment that these kids have to this enterprise is something that never ceases to amaze me,” said advisor Mia Boardman Smith. “Every time I get accustomed to it they show me something beyond…I feel like I have the best and the brightest.”
Mia said that the staff carries themselves like serious working journalists—when something happens on campus, they’re right on it. Production days can stretch up to five hours after school and laying out the paper is sometimes finished in 12 hours.
“It’s a long day,” said Nikita Mathew, senior news editor. “It’s fun and stressful sometimes too.” Mia recalls a day she came in for the kids to work on a Sunday, she graded papers at their desk while they plugged away in the workroom, breaking just to head out on coffee runs.
Like a real newspaper, the teens also have to solicit advertising, as Winnie Ma did last year. She said they experience a lot of rejection on ads, but they do get a lot of support from community businesses, and then comes the fun part of designing their ad.
“It’s an experience I didn’t think high school students could actually have,” said Jill.
This year Jill oversaw several changes to The Falconer—it underwent a re-design, changed sizes from broadsheet to tabloid, and the paper launched its very own website.
“We’re like a family here,” said Winnie. “I love talking to different people and understanding what’s going on and also informing our students what is going on in the community and the nation. It’s a really great opportunity.”
“Everyone is doing a [terrific] job, everyone’s so dedicated and everyone’s little part adds up together,” said Nikita.
Jill will be a part of the senior group that selects next year’s editor-in-chief and staff leaders. She is confident that the paper will continue its winning streak.
“The quality of the paper will be maintained even if the staff dynamic is different,” Jill said.