Student newspaper wins award

January 17, 1994|By Lan Nguyen | Lan Nguyen,Staff Writer

The student newspaper at Centennial High School has scooped the competition.

Last month, Wingspan won the Marylander Award in the annual Maryland Scholastic Press Association contest, making it the state's best.

Their newspaper is best, editors say, because students are serious about the job that needs to be done. "There's a professional atmosphere, and we try to [produce] a professional newspaper," says Chad Hawthorne, an editor.

In winning the award, Wingspan edged out Montgomery County high schools known for their first-rate journalism programs.

Wingspan has risen steadily in the high school press rankings, placing third in 1991 and taking second-place in 1992, before bringing home the top prize for the first time in the school's 16-year history.

"A standard was set," says Jennifer Lee, features editor. "We're trying to live up to that standard."

Centennial's journalism room has six Macintosh computers, its own phone line and copies of past issues pinned on bulletin boards. The walls are filled with names of past editors and reporters.

Students put in countless hours to publish the 10- to 16-page paper, which comes out about 10 times a year.

Wingspan has been a springboard for many Centennial graduates who have chosen to pursue journalism careers.

One is an editor with the Harvard Science Review, and another is on the business staff of the Harvard Crimson. Another former staff member works for ESPN, the cable sports channel.

The newspaper has tackled tough issues like teen-age drinking, yet took a tongue-in-cheek approach to teens who have lost their driving privileges.

It has a magazine, Vanguard, which is a quirky, humor publication that has poked fun at cows, the prom and the girls' bathroom.

It's a magazine that has a Fish-of-the-Month page and a coloring page -- Jerry Garcia, of Grateful Dead fame, was the subject in the October issue.

The newspaper is a self-supporting tabloid with a $10,000 annual budget and a 47-member staff. Student editors have complete control over how stories get played in the newspaper.

The sports page covers the school's varsity and junior varsity teams. The features page prints such off-beat pieces as a survey on the colors and types of cars in the school parking lot.

And the editorial page deals with national topics, as well as local issues, such as the school system's smoking ban and the idea of year-round schools.

"We want to print stories that stimulate thought and generate discussions," says magazine co-editor Jackquelyne Chu.

Upholding standards

Newspaper adviser Kathy Baer, who leads the staff meetings, plays a variety of roles -- as a hard-nosed editor, pushing students to dig for information, and as a diplomatic publisher, making sure the students adhere to standards of taste.

At one meeting, she advises against using profane words in a crossword puzzle.

"We can't do it," she says, surrounded by student editors and writers. "It's tacky, and we would be encouraging a whole classroom of students . . . to banter around profane words."

Other times, she plays the role of a nurturing mother. She reminds the staff to keep working in her two-day absence, while she attends her daughter's wedding.

"Everybody knows what needs to be done," she says. "Next week will be a three-day week, and you know how that goes."

The staff's next issue -- due out Feb. 10 -- will address the frenzy over political correctness and whether it has gotten out of hand.

An innovative paper

It also will feature an interview with Jacqueline F. Brown, the human relations coordinator for the county school system.

Student editors say they like to be innovative. Their newspaper, for example, was the first in the county to switch to desk-top publishing more than four years ago. And theirs is the only paper among eight county high school publications to include a student-produced magazine in every issue.

But not everything is perfect. Even on the No. 1 paper, there is room for improvement.

"We [could] definitely work harder to make it more efficient," Jenny Lee, opinion editor, says. "Our biggest problem now is getting the paper out on time."

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