By Jada Butler
Assistant News Editor
For the past several years, the Department of Communications and Film (formerly known as the Department of Media Arts) has hosted the “Best of High School Journalism Awards,” celebrating the hard work of the finest high school journalists. On Friday, March 24, students and teachers from 21 high schools in Nassau, Suffolk, Queens, Brooklyn, and New Jersey attended the annual awards ceremony. Coordinated by professors and students in the Department of Communications and Film, high school students ranging from grades 9 through 12 engaged in interactive media workshops in the Pioneer newsroom, PTV television studio, and WCWP radio station, as well as a Public Relations workshop in Humanities 119, followed by a luncheon and awards presentation.
In the Pioneer newsroom workshop led by Carolyn Levin, director of the LIU Post journalism program and advisor to The Pioneer, high school students discussed and debated the topic of “fake news.” They evaluated a story in the New York Post about an alleged “missing pregnant tarantula” on the loose in Brooklyn, and identified the steps where the reporters went wrong. “The fact that fake news really serves as a threat was eye opening,” Samuel Valentin, a sophomore at New Hyde Park Memorial High School, said.
Levin stressed to the students that it is not only important to be wary of false information or sources from a journalist’s standpoint, but also as a consumer of news. “Have a healthy skepticism,” Levin said. “Don’t believe everything you read.”
Students were also given an inside scoop on reporting on a college campus from members of the Pioneer Editorial Board. “All of our reporting ties back to the campus,” Caroline Ryan, junior journalism major, and Pioneer Editor-in-Chief, said. Pioneer articles are filled with student, teacher, and administrator quotes, opinions, and pictures to connect with the LIU community.
Many high school publications cater to a broader range of topics and publish either monthly or quarterly, so it came as a surprise to some students that the Pioneer published solely campus news and events on a weekly basis. “It is so interesting to see how journalism works at the college level,” Samantha Stern, a Hewlett High School senior, said.
The PTV television studio workshop led by Benjamin Gerdes, assistant professor of broadcasting, and assisted by senior broadcasting majors Grace Oshin and Brittany Mitchell, focused on interviewing skills and other aspects of broadcast journalism, such as what to do when given a short answer.
Students chimed in with solutions of, “ask to elaborate,” “squeeze as much information out as possible” and “break the ice.” Gerdes then asked the students to pair up with someone they did not know to roleplay an interview. The interviewer asked a broad question to get the interviewee to talk, and was then instructed to follow up with a direct question. “That’s how you get the dirt,” Gerdes said.
Many students expressed the desire to be a live news reporter, and to go out and find stories on the streets. “It’s inspiring to see these [high school] students so passionate about journalism and media,” Mitchell said.
Tuning in to the WCWP radio station workshop led by Dan Cox, the director of the campus radio station, students learned the major differences between radio and print journalism.
Both fields include writing, yet print journalism is at liberty to write in full narrative, whereas radio scripts must be limited with straight facts and the occasional soundbites. “You get five minutes to tell nine news stories,” Cox said. “News should be objective, but that is impossible to achieve,” Cox said. Everyone has an inner bias, and in most print news, a narrative accompanies the facts.
To start the awards presentation, keynote speaker Angela Susan Anton, the publisher and editor of the Anton Media Group, reminded students of the challenges facing journalists in the years to come. She also reminded the students how they had to prevail against the fake and biased news today. “There is now, more than ever, a need for true journalism,” Anton said.
The 2017 Best of High School Journalism Awards recognized the best in high school journalism written and published between Jan. 1, 2016 and Dec. 31, 2016.
A record number of student entries were considered this year by a panel of professional judges. Judging was based on overall excellence, including accuracy, adherence to journalistic standards, clarity, and creative use of the medium.
The awards were presented by the editors of the Pioneer and the Bottom Line. For best commentary/editorial, presented by Grace Oshin, Editor-in-Chief of The Bottom Line magazine, first place went to Christine Seo and Nicole Rosenthal from Half Hollow Hills High School West, for their collaborative piece on “Doorways to Community (and Controversy).”
Rosenthal, who attended the summer journalism institute at LIU Post last summer and has written a freelancer for the Pioneer during her senior year in high school, intends to follow a career in either investigative or music journalism. Her goal is to some day work for Pitchfork,an online music review site.
For the category of Best Sports Story, presented by senior journalism major and Pioneer Sports Editor, Shelby Townsend, first place went to Marlie Allen and Megan Konfino from Commack High School, for their piece, “It’s Not the Hype, It’s the Hoop.” A richly reported recounting of the Commack girls basketball team’s championship that did more than just describe what they accomplished, but also gave insight to how they did it.
The popular category of best feature story had several ties out of the record breaking 68 entries received. Presented by junior broadcasting major, journalism minor, and Pioneer Features Editor, Kristina Huderski, first place went to Aamna Arshad from Midwood High School in Brooklyn, for the story, “Taking Notes, Not Pictures, Leads to Lasting Knowledge,” an interesting topic with good research and a great use of student and teacher quotes.
In the category for best news story, presented by senior dance major, journalism minor, and Pioneer News Editor, Nicole Curcio, first place went to Zack Abrams and James Oldham from Commack High School on their collaborative piece, “Zika: The International Crisis.” The judges said, about Abrams and Oldham’s story, “This story on the zika virus sets itself apart from other entries through its solid attributions to scientific statements, fine use of local resourcing, clear writing, strongly worded lead and comprehensiveness.”
The Best Online Publication awards were presented by junior journalism major, and Pioneer Online Editor Marissa Hoffmann and the Pioneer’s former Editor-in-Chief Maxime Devillaz. Two online high school newspapers were awarded first place,The Red & Black of Patchogue-Medford High School and The JerEcho of Jericho High School. The Red & Black, in its first year online since its inception in 1928, “has created an engaging, dynamic online newspaper for the students and community – a compelling, professional news source for their school,” the judges said. The JerEcho, winning first place in the category for a second year in a row, once again, impressed the judge. “Hard- hitting news reporting on school, local and world news, professional quality photographs, weekly polls and more, earned The JerEcho this award for an exemplary online news site,” the judges wrote.
The entries in the Best of High School Newspaper category this year were extraordinary. Presented by the Pioneer Co-Editors-in-Chief Caroline Ryan, a junior journalism major, and Thomas Gillen, a senior journalism major, first place prizes were awarded to Hewlett Spectrum of George W. Hewlett High School and Horizon of Lynbrook High School.
After the presentation of the awards, many of the high school students expressed their enjoyment. “I think it’s great how many aspects of journalism are being shown to us; it’s a very well- rounded experience,” Rosenthal, a senior at Half Hollow Hills High School West, and an award recipient, said.
“It’s really a great experience for the students,” Michael Howley, a journalism teacher at Oceanside High School, said. “Not only for the awards, but the engaging presentations about finding truth in today’s media.”