With the 2017 newspaper awards season coming to a close, the Octagon is in the running for another accolade, this time from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA).
The Octagon has been nominated for a Gold Crown by the CSPA in the hybrid category, which includes both the print and online editions in the 2016-17 school year.
The Octagon has never won a Gold Crown before. It has been nominated twice in the past 10 years but has received only Silver Crowns, awarded to nominees who do not get the top award.
According to the CSPA website, Crown Awards are “the highest recognition given by the CSPA to a student print or digital medium for overall excellence.”
A panel of judges assembles each year at Columbia University to view all the entries and select nominees and winners.
The CSPA website states that entries are evaluated on “content, design or presentation, coverage, photography, writing and editing.”
Gold and Silver Crowns will be awarded at the CSPA Spring Convention at Columbia University in New York City on Friday, March 17.
Octagon adviser Patricia Fels attributes the nomination partly to an improvement in the redesign of last year’s print edition.
“When I found out about the nomination, my first reaction was ‘that makes sense’ because (previous print editor-in-chief) Marigot (Fackenthal) worked so hard on improving the design of the paper (last) year,” Fels said.
Fackenthal began the 2016-17 school year by completely overhauling the paper’s design.
“I think the big changes were visual things,” Fackenthal said.
“Our content stayed pretty consistent. It was solid.”
The redesigned Octagon featured more interesting and artistic graphics and page designs and had a more appealing layout for readers, according to former print editor-in-chief Adam Dean, ‘17, who co-edited the print edition with Fackenthal.
“Before (last year) we had very minimal graphics,” Fackenthal said. “If we had extra information, we would just put it as text in the story.
“But last year, we started making more infographics, which are much more visually appealing to the reader.”
Fackenthal also redesigned all the snippets (small design elements) for the reader.
“We changed the caption snippet, the pull quote snippet and a lot of the fonts,” she said.
“We redesigned the folio (the line of small text across the top of each page) as well.”
Fackenthal said that she was going for a more news magazine look.
“A lot of the papers I looked at for inspiration were news magazines,” she said.
Fels said she believes that the Octagon’s design hindered it from winning a Gold Crown in the past.
“Our design never stood out,” Fels said.
“It wasn’t the stories that were the problem – it was the design.”
When Dean found out about the nomination, he said he was very excited.
“It was nice to receive some recognition for our work last year,” Dean said.
Fackenthal agreed with Dean.
“I do feel like our paper last year, both the online and the print, was a big improvement from the previous year,” Fackenthal said.
“I’m glad our hard work paid off in some way.”
Fels attributed the nomination also to an influx of strong stories last year.
“I think we had many more investigative stories and hard-hitting editorials than (in) previous years,” she said.
Dean agreed with Fels.
“Especially in the last couple of issues, we had a lot of stories that interacted with the community and provided a lot of useful information,” he said.
“We had stories that people really wanted to read, as the stories told the community something that they didn’t know before.”
Since the publication was nominated in the hybrid category for both the print and online editions, the online edition, edited then by then-junior Sonja Hansen, also played a crucial part in the Octagon’s Gold Crown nomination.
“Sonja (Hansen) really stepped up our online edition last year,” Fels said.
For example, the Octagon was updated almost every day, which makes it more appealing to readers, according to Fels.
Hansen said that the online edition’s original stories (those not reprinted from the print edition) also improved.
“In terms of content, last year was our biggest year,” Hansen said.
“We had almost 655 stories throughout the whole year, and a lot of those were high quality.”
Hansen said that photos and videos were another factor that the online Octagon improved upon.
“We did a good job of getting a lot more pictures with each story,” she said.
Although Hansen was last year’s online editor-in-chief, she did not change the design of the website.
“I didn’t really do anything with design,” Hansen said. “(Former online editor-in-chief) Zoë Bowlus, (‘16), set up most of the design in the previous year,” she said.
Even though the Octagon was nominated for a Gold Crown, it was not nominated for a Pacemaker award for last year’s print edition by the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA).
“It’s strange because we have never been nominated for a Gold Crown when we weren’t also nominated for a Pacemaker,” Fels said.
“My impression was always that the CSPA cares more about design than the NSPA. I fully expected to be nominated for Pacemaker and only maybe (for) a Gold Crown.”
Fackenthal added that she believes both the CSPA and NSPA focus more on design than content.
“(But) those obviously weren’t enough to push us over the edge to get a Pacemaker,” Fels said.
The national winners for Story of the Year will be announced on Saturday, Nov. 18, at the JEA/NSPA Fall National High School Journalism Convention in Dallas.
Fackenthal was also puzzled by not being nominated for a Pacemaker.
“It was weird because we won some stuff at the NSPA convention, but our whole paper didn’t win the Pacemaker,” Fackenthal said.
“That was really disappointing.”
Dean, on the other hand, thinks that the paper was not nominated for a Pacemaker due to the paper’s more traditional look.
“A lot of the newspapers are heading towards a news magazine look,” Dean said. “We stay more towards a traditional newspaper look, which is harder to get nominated for.”
Although Dean is disappointed about not being nominated for a Pacemaker, he is still happy about the Gold Crown nomination.
“I prefer the Gold Crown nomination over the Pacemaker because we have never had a Gold Crown before,” he said.
Fackenthal said that the print edition has gotten even better this year.
“Throughout the year, I knew there were things I could have done better,” Fackenthal said.
“(Junior design chiefs) Allison (Zhang) and Mohini (Rye) have done a great job this year with the new design.”[imagelinks id=”26421″]
—By Jack Christian