HHS Media staff attends convention, wins multiple awards

Riley Thompson, Print Editor in Chief

The HHS Media staff visited Los Angeles, California, April 6-10, for the JEA/NSPA spring high school journalism convention. Students had the opportunity to tour L.A., as well as go to journalism sessions relating to all areas of journalism. First time attendees, sophomore Clare Kirwan and freshmen Jumana Alsaadoon and Tyler Miller had the opportunity to experience their first convention after the COVID-19 pandemic. Senior Rachel Phengsitthy and junior Silas Spears were able to build on their experience from past conventions. HCPS Superintendent Dr. Michael Richards taught one of the sessions with three HHS Media students.

Going to her last conference was special for Phengsitthy, as she missed multiple conventions because of the pandemic. 

“I was really excited to spend my last conference with a group of students who were motivated to learn how to improve themselves and our staff as a whole. Realizing that it was my last high school journalism convention made me sad because I wasn’t able to attend my sophomore and junior years,” Phengsitthy said. 

Spears has experienced the past two years of conferences virtually. Being able to finally go in person was an even more meaningful experience for him. 

“It was nice being able to go to a physical conference instead of doing it all virtual, like everything has been the past few years. Being around thousands of other journalists all eager to learn made the conference more enjoyable and fun,” Spears said. 

For freshmen like Alsaadoon, getting ideas about how to improve for upcoming years was beneficial. 

“It was a great opportunity to attend a convention with HHS Media,” Alsaadoon said. “There were so many journalists who were passionate about what they did. Seeing that was inspiring. I got to see other journalists’ work, which gave me a lot of ideas on how to improve my skills in the upcoming years.” 

The benefits of going to conferences quickly became apparent to the HHS Media staff when many students decided to stay in the class after going to the conference. 

“I’m glad I got to experience something like this. I wasn’t necessarily sure I was going to continue with Newsstreak next year, but after seeing the conference and learning what I could do in the future, it made me want to stay,” Miller said. 

I don’t think I expected to come out as inspired as I did. The speakers were incredible and I learned so much. I’m really excited to have the opportunity to take on more of a leadership role next year.”

— Clare Kirwan

Not only do conventions help grow the HHS Media staff, but they also provide students with real world experience in professional settings. 

“Conventions are an important part of professional practice in all fields, including journalism. By attending an actual convention, students get real world experience with networking and professional learning,” Richards said. “While some of the skills learned at a convention can be simulated in local settings, nothing compares to the pedagogic richness of being immersed in the authentic experience of a convention.”

Even though all HHS Media students aren’t interested in the same areas of journalism, there were sessions based on all parts, such as writing, yearbook and design. 

“I attended a lot of sessions centered around newspaper writing. I learned about the technical [aspect] when it came to writing, but I also learned how impactful writing can be. I pushed myself to take some design classes, despite loving the writing classes,” Alsaadoon said. 

Sharing ideas with other journalists around the country and hearing of others’ powerful experiences in journalism stood out to Phengsitthy. 

“In my first session, [I learned] that journalists have the power to change lives. Hearing the stories of other journalists risking their lives and working to change the people around them gave me a new perspective on the benefits of journalism,” Phengsitthy said. 

Because the staff is currently working on developing next year’s yearbook theme, Miller took a few yearbook theme sessions to further his understanding of yearbook. 

“My favorite part from the convention was the theme [sessions] because I learned the most in them. I learned where a theme goes [in a yearbook], what a good theme is and how to find it,” Miller said. “I also learned different ways to write better stories and what you need to do to get good interviews and ask good questions.” 

For underclassmen such as Kirwan, learning about how other programs run their journalism staff and work together as a team is beneficial to becoming a leader in the next few years. 

”I don’t think I expected to come out as inspired as I did. The speakers were incredible and I learned so much,” Kirwan said. “I’m really excited to have the opportunity to take on more of a leadership role next year. One of the classes I took focused on recruiting and retaining members mostly through team bonding. Next year, I really want the staff to feel like a family and plan fun events together. I also want to explore design aspects of journalism. A lot of publications at the conference have graphic designers within their staff which is something I would love to do.” 

Richards, senior Maya Waid and juniors Kasey and Riley Thompson had the opportunity to teach a session about learning how to work well with your administrators.

Kasey, Maya, and Riley and I prepared ahead of time to frame the discussion of how students and administrators can work together to balance students’ need for freedom to report on the stories that interest them and administration’s need to maintain an orderly learning environment,” Richards said. “We used two HHS Media cover stories as case studies to ground the discussion. Measured by the ample questions we received from the audience, I think the session was viewed as very useful and engaging. We received several compliments afterward.”

Teaching a session that became more of a conversation was a valuable experience all around. 

“The challenges students and faculty mentors face in trying to balance free speech and school speech is real and involves administration at all levels. It is a conversation and not a monologue. Having their superintendent with them on the panel lent more authenticity and relevance to the discussion. Also, I try to connect with students in their learning whenever I can, and so this was a personal opportunity for me to engage with students and faculty,” Richards said. 

Not only is the trip educational, but it also provides an opportunity for the staff to bond and get to know eachother better than the classroom setting allows. 

“Hanging out with other [people on the trip] was fun, whether it was walking to get lunch or just hanging out after the sessions ended,” Miller said. 

Being together for a few days allowed the staff to get to know each other like they hadn’t before. 

“COVID-19 has made it really hard to get to know everyone on staff because last year was completely online and this year my class only consists of about eight people. Because of this, my favorite part of the trip was how it allowed us to all get closer and bond with each other. We had so much fun together and our days were packed full of fun excursions,” Kirwan said. 

In addition to staff bonding, the staff toured multiple areas of California and listened to speeches from journalists from around the country.

“On Wednesday, we toured Griffith Observatory, Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier. On Thursday, we toured Beverly Hills, The Grove and the Farmer’s Market. That night, we listened to Hilde Lysiak give an amazing keynote speech. Friday and Saturday, we attended sessions we were interested in and learned from other journalists around the country,” Phengsitthy said. 

An awards session ended the convention on Saturday. Journalism staff’s from around the country earned multiple awards for their work. 

“We won a Pacemaker for our online website, sixth in best of show for the yearbook and ninth for our newspaper. Winning these awards represents all the hard work our staff has put into this program and I’m super glad we got to share this moment together,” Phengsitthy said. 

Staff members are excited to attend conventions next year, too. 

“Next year we are going to St. Louis in the fall and San Francisco in the spring. I definitely plan on attending both conventions. I’m so excited to take even more classes and bring back new ideas to implement in our publication and within our staff,” Kirwan said.