Octagon stories on memes, college, ballerinas, ‘helicopter parents’ receive national journalistic acclamation

(Photo used courtesy of Wikimedia under Creative Commons license)
The Columbia Scholastic Press Association seal.

Four Octagon staffers won Gold Circle awards on April 11. The awards are granted by the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA), an international student press association affiliated with Columbia University in New York City that hosts conferences, writes textbooks, offers critiques and judges contests.

The 2016-17 Octagon also won a CSPA Silver Crown in the hybrid (newspapers with print and online editions) category. Crown awards, decided by a panel of judges, are “the highest recognition given by the CSPA to a student print or digital medium for overall excellence,” according to the CSPA website.

Among the Gold Circle winners were former staffers print editor-in-chief Marigot Fackenthal, ’17, and page editor and blogger Nicole Wolkov, ’17, current print editor-in-chief senior Annya Dahmani and current online editor-in-chief junior Chardonnay Needler.

Octagon adviser Patricia Fels said that the Octagon has won many Gold Circle awards over the years.

According to her, they’re hard to win because there are only six awards in each category: First, Second and Third Place and three Certificates of Merit (honorable mention).

In addition, CSPA member newspapers can submit multiple entries in each category; the Octagon submitted 60 entries.

Fackenthal won a Certificate of Merit (CM) award in Editorial writing for an editorial headlined, “Don’t Allow Students Access to Online Grades.”

In the editorial, Fackenthal argued that all of a student’s grades on CavNet should not be released to their parents.

“Parents forcing their way into their child’s life is something I dealt with because I had parents that helicoptered,” Fackenthal (now a freshman at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York) said.

“It leads to an unhealthy mindset for parents that focus on every one of the kid’s grades and creates an unhealthy mindset for the kid who’s being helicoptered.”

Fackenthal said she was surprised she had won, as she said she thought there were better editorials last year, such as the one about the International students, which was chosen as one of the 10 best editorials in the nation by the National Scholastic Press Association. The only reason she could think of was that the subject was a modern issue.

Whereas parents were the focus of Fackenthal’s editorial, college admissions were the topic of Wolkov’s Third Place blog in general or humor commentary, “Nicole’s Ponderings: Need Answers for College Questions? Try These!”

This piece was full of common questions seniors are asked on college applications with satirical answers. One joke was that the University of Somalia was Wolkov’s dream pick because, “I want a thrilling college experience living on the edge in a lawless state of anarchy.”

Wolkov (now a freshman at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.) said she liked seeing that other people found her funny.

“I don’t normally expect other people to find what I find funny, so it’s great when they do,” Wolkov said.

She said that many seniors are tired of the same questions on college applications, so most of them have prepared answers. She said she thought it’d be funny to write what all seniors wished they could say.

Dahmani wrote her CM-winning feature story on male ballerinas.

According to Dahmani, the story was rewritten about three times because she couldn’t find an interesting angle.

“At first, the angle was solely about (then-freshman) Jackson (Margolis) and what it’s like to be a male ballerina,” Dahmani said. “But then after turning in the story, it seemed that it would be better if it was more about the stigma of being a male ballerina and the difference between male ballet and female ballet.”

Another CM winner was Needler in the general or humor category with her My Angle headlined “Illegal PSAT Memes Provide Hilarious Entertainment for Teens Across the Country.”

She said she wrote it simply out of a “love of memes.”

“(PSAT memes were) something I found interesting because I’d never taken a standardized test before,” Needler said.

“When I got home, I found all these memes on the internet about a test we weren’t supposed to talk about. Were these illegal memes?”

The memes (or jokes) on the internet are technically illegal because students sign a form pledging not to discuss test questions or content before taking the PSAT.

Unlike Dahmani, who wrote her story in multiple drafts, Needler and Wolkov both said they wrote theirs relatively quickly.

Needler said that her winning proved “the judges appreciate good memes.”

—By Spencer Scott

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