The Octagon has been named a finalist for the Online Pacemaker award by the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA).

The online edition’s last nomination was in 2016. It won the award that year.

This year’s print edition was not nominated for a Pacemaker.

According to the NSPA, the association started presenting the prestigious award to high school newspapers shortly after the organization was founded in 1921.

“The Pacemaker is the association’s pre-eminent award,” executive director Laura Widmer said in the NSPA’s press release. “NSPA is honored to recognize the best of the best.”

Forty-four Pacemaker finalists were selected out of approximately 200 sites, according to the NSPA.

Pacemaker winners will be announced on Saturday, April 27, at the Spring National High School Journalism Convention in Anaheim.

“The judging teams will now continue to study the sites named as Pacemaker finalists on a frequent basis,” Gary Lundgren, associate director and coordinator of the Pacemaker competition, said in the NSPA’s press release. “The competition is really just heating up.”

Senior Chardonnay Needler, a current editor-in-chief and 2017-18 online editor-in-chief, said she was surprised by the nomination.  

“Sahej (Claire, ’18) and I had a lot of things we wanted to do when we were online editors-in-chief that didn’t end up getting done,” Needler said.

She added that most people think the print edition is stronger than the online, which she said is “unfortunate.”

“The judge at the NSPA journalism convention in San Francisco last year was very critical of our online publication,” Needler said. “So, with that harsh of a critique, I didn’t think we would get a nomination.”

The online Octagon was criticized for insufficient multimedia coverage, according to Needler.

“If anything, I thought the print would get nominated,” Needler said.

However, Needler said the site’s superb design and content are its strengths.

“We run good stories, and we run them fairly regularly,” Needler said.

Claire agreed.

“We had some great content that was impactful and well-written,” said Claire, now a freshman at Stanford University. “The staff works really hard every year to create quality content.”

Needler and Claire were equally enthusiastic about the website’s design.

“Sahej and I really increased video content and made a lot of improvements to the site’s appearance,” Needler said.

This year’s editors-in-chief switched the website’s platform from SNO (School Newspaper Online) to WordPress, and Needler said it looks “a lot better now.”

This switch could not have happened without the contribution of senior Joe Mo, who spent a lot of time last fall transferring the website to the new host and reformatting pages.

“WordPress is a lot cheaper and gives us much more freedom in terms of what we can do design-wise,” Mo said.

However, Mo said the site is still missing the element of interactivity.

“Going forward, we could add audio and video snippets, links to other articles, interactive timelines and maps,  or infographics within articles,” Mo said.

Needler agreed.

“We had a lot of problems switching platforms, so it’s is not perfect yet,” Needler said. “We have been working out the kinks.”

Despite the issues, Needler said the Octagon could win a Pacemaker, especially if the staff works hard.

“As second-semester seniors, the editors now have time to devote to really perfecting the online,” Needler said. “The only thing that separates us from past winners is the amount of multimedia content we have.”

But she said that with her work with Mo this coming semester, “we have a shot.”

—By Anna Frankel

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