The film awards season is fast approaching, meaning movie buffs are impatient to find out which nominees will compete in award ceremonies, such as the Golden Globe Awards, the People’s Choice Awards and the Academy Awards.
Similarly, over the past couple of weeks high school journalists from across the nation – Octagon staffers included – have paced and wrung their hands over the impending release of the results of national and international journalism contests.
And some were indeed recognized for their page layout designs featured in last year’s print edition.
Octagon adviser Patricia Fels said that all the credit for teaching these staffers how to design belongs to former print editor-in-chief Marigot Fackenthal, ’17.
“I am extremely proud of these students, even though I didn’t teach them a single thing about design,” Fels said.
Juniors Chardonnay Needler, Jack Christian and Allison Zhang each received design awards from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA), an international student press association that hosts conferences, produces textbooks, offers critiques and judges contests.
Besides the CSPA, the Octagon also entered contests sponsored by the National Scholastic Press Association, an organization that provides educational materials and resources to advisers, defines ethical practices and judges middle school, high school and college publications.
Needler said that she was shocked to learn that she had placed second in the CSPA’s Gold Circle contest for News Page Design for her page in last year’s fifth issue. The page featured “Political panelists reconvene on POTUS’s policies, cabinet picks, climate change, Women’s Marches,” a roundtable debate between four high school students on the latest political activities.
Needler said that it was “super fun” editing an image of Donald Trump to add more of a comic book appearance and picking out and cropping signs from Women’s Marches.
“At that time, the Women’s Marches were in full swing, so I thought ‘Hey! Let’s have some of those protest signs,’” Needler said.
But she said she was a little worried that readers would get upset that no pro-Trump signs were featured. She said that she decided against including a campaign sign for Trump because it would have “looked random.”
Before deciding on designing the protest signs and Trump graphic, Needler said that she felt frazzled by the selection of images that she had to choose from and the length of the story.
“I was so afraid that we’d have to make the graphic small, so (Octagon adviser Patricia) Fels and I did some major cutting on that story so the page would be more appealing,” she said.
Like Needler, Zhang said that she was very surprised to learn that she had placed first in the CSPA’s Gold Circle contest for Feature Page Design for her flowchart entitled “Got Plans for the Summer Yet?” from the sixth issue.
“All the other winners are from really great papers with amazing designs, like The ReMarker, (the newspaper of St. Mark’s School of Texas in Dallas)” she said. “I did not expect to be on par with them.”
Zhang said that she was inspired by Fackenthal, who had wanted to do a flowchart on summer programs in an earlier issue.
Though Zhang said it was time-consuming planning out the flowchart and dividing it logically, she also said that it helped add more “interactive, fun” features to the issue rather than basic blocks of text.
Christian’s front page for the seventh issue of the year placed first in the CSPA’s Gold Circle contest for Page One Design.
“I didn’t even know Fels had submitted my front page, so it was an even bigger surprise when I learned I had gotten first place,” he said.
Christian said that as he was designing his front page, many staffers had commented on how good it looked, but those compliments did not lead him to believe that his work was a prizewinner.
He said that he decided to design the front page more like a news magazine cover.
“Lots of news magazine covers have a large image with text on top of that image to draw in readers,” he said. “It worked especially well because the ‘Roast or Toast’ story had great images and was more of a news-feature than a traditional news story.”
The hardest part was finding the perfect dominant image to be displayed above the fold, according to Christian.
Rye said that designing her spread was “pretty stressful,” primarily because it was her first spread.
“The Friday before paste-up week (the week during which the print issue is designed and sent to the printer), Marigot (Fackenthal) told me that I was in charge of getting my own pictures,” she said. “That was a kind of ‘Wait, what?!’ moment”
Rye said that the prospect of finding pictures and then designing the spread was intimidating and that she ran into quite a few snags coordinating with photographers and working around her busy schedule.
“(At) a lot of points throughout the week, I looked at (the spread) and thought, ‘My god, this is ugly.’” Rye said.
Because of these problems, Rye spent all five days of paste-up week working on her page whereas most page editors spend three to four days.
“I knew what I had to do – and it was a lot – but I worked with it and came out with something that was pretty decent looking, so I’d consider that a win,” she said.
The winners of Design of the Year will be announced during the JEA/NSPA Fall National High School Journalism Convention, Nov. 16-19, in Dallas, Texas.
But while several page editors and reporters placed in these national contests, the print edition as a whole was not nominated for a Newspaper Pacemaker, a prominent journalism award that the NSPA calls “the Pulitzer Prize of high school journalism.” The Octagon has won the award three times (twice for the print edition and once for the online) and been nominated a number of times.
“It’s very disappointing,” former print editor-in-chief Adam Dean, ‘17, said. “Last year Marigot and I really tried to address (the) criticism (NSPA) gave us. A lot of (the criticism) had to do with our design, and I think we did a very good job of fixing that.”
Dean said that over 70 percent of the nominations were given to news magazines, and the remainder were awarded to classic newspapers that feature more interesting stories, because they come from schools with large student populations, and are overall “very, very high quality.”
Fels said that she agreed that the Octagon is at a disadvantage because it’s being compared to papers with larger staffs and longer issues.
Fackenthal said that she was equally upset and that many of the nominated news magazines “don’t have the Octagon’s caliber of content, but outrank us in visual style.”
Fackenthal also said that she believes that this volume of the paper looks significantly better and that she hopes that the updated design will lead to more awards.
Dean said that despite missing out on the nomination, he is still proud of the pages and the stories that staffers produced last year and hopes that this year’s editors-in-chief will experiment to find out what sticks and check out other newspapers.