2020-21 Newsies Awards With Judges’ Comments and Bios

Congratulations to every single student journalist and high school newspaper advisor who participated during this challenging academic year! Overall, the judges were extremely impressed with your excellent work.
— Professor Geanne Belton

Best NYC high school online newspaper edition. Judge: Jere Hester

First Place: Townsend Harris
The Classic (Townsend Harris)

Judge’s Comments: The staff of The Classic rose to the challenge of chronicling life for the Townsend Harris community during, as one headline put it, “an unconventional school year.” The mix of stories, from news-you-can-use on remote learning to school clubs going virtual, offered much-needed service while ably reflecting what it’s like to be a TH student during extraordinary times.

Second Place: Francis Lewis News
FLHS News (Francis Lewis)

Judge’s Comments: The team at Francis Lewis News produced a lively mix of news and features about life in — and out of — school during an ongoing unprecedented period. The work is presented well via a clear, user friendly site, adding to the impact.

Features. Judge: Gisele Regatão

Features: Soft news and more in-depth articles that fall outside of standard school/community/world news and contain multiple sources obtained through students’ reporting, including interviews conducted by student journalists (ideally with three or more sources who are independent of each other.) First Place: Eximius

First Place: Eximius College Preparatory Academy
Entry: “Are you scared yet? The Science of FEAR” by Christopher Agosto

Judge’s Comments: This is an original, interesting and fun piece about why we enjoy feeling fear while watching horror movies or going inside a dark cave. The story is well-reported and it has a variety of sources, from teachers and students reporting on their personal experiences to a psychiatrist explaining the science behind fear. The piece also includes the history of horror films and it features beautiful illustrations created by the writer. This is a great example of a feature that goes deep into one aspect of the human experience and is truly a joy to read.

Overall Guidance for the Category: Great feature stories start with a good idea that often addresses the “why,” something we all wonder about. Instead of tackling general topics, think about your own life experience and of those around you. Also, relate your story to current events. Why does it matter now? Make sure your reporting includes sources from diverse backgrounds representing different points of view. Remember that journalism is about facts, so you should use data or experts to back up your reporting. Journalistic writing should be clear, concise and straight-forward, avoid long sentences, long paragraphs and adjectives. Chase what you are passionate about, but make sure you are always serving the reader.

Illustration/Comics/Political Cartoon. Judge: Jonathan Bartlett

Illustration/Comics/Political Cartoon: Showcase your best student artist here. First Place: Frank Sinatra, Second Place: Bard High School Early College Queens

First Place: Frank Sinatra School of the Arts
Entry: “Inspecting Interiors: Quarantine Edition” by Coralis Rivera
Inspecting Interiors: Quarantine Edition
Judge’s Comments: Just Incredible work, from the drawing to the color selection and composition, artistically these illustrations demonstrate a high level of maturity. But even more so the emotion and mystery in the work is impossible to ignore. The choice of scene, the details included, even the way the artist describes them all come together to perfectly capture the feelings and emotions of living under a pandemic. As a viewer, I’m given a sneak peak into a private world that leaves me piecing together an entire story about the family that lives here…

Second Place: Bard High School Early College Queens
Entry: “Think Of Their Reputation” by Khadijah Hussain

Judge’s Comments: This image is so mysterious that I found myself staring at it for a long time wondering what it all means. I don’t know what the artist’s full intent was, but that’s what makes it so good! We don’t need to know. The emotion, the darkness, even the title of this painting makes me feel uneasy…almost nervous and uncomfortable for the person I’m looking at — a haunting feeling that you can only get from an image created from a personal and honest place. Being able to achieve that level of meaning with your work, especially at this level, is why this image stands out from the rest.

Overall Guidance For The Category: 2020 has been a tough year for so many reasons– not an easy environment to stay creative in! So I’m incredibly excited to see beautiful and interesting work from each and every student here. I think the thing that gives me most joy is the range of styles and genres presented. An artist is at their best when they let individuality shine and from what I see, these students are not afraid to do just that.

With that said, two entries stood out to me as having a deep sense of story and personal experience. To award first and second place was the most difficult part.

Multimedia News Reporting. Judge: Vera Haller

Multimedia News Reporting/Broadcast: Includes any video, audio slide shows, interactive graphics, podcasts, etc. First Place: Francis Lewis

First Place: Francis Lewis High School
Entry: “That’s Not Very Cash Money of You: Teens and Sexual Harassment in the Workplace” by Athina Halkiadakis, Emily Dinnanauth, Nathalie Segarra-Valle

That’s Not Very Cash Money of You: Teens & Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Judge’s Comments: This podcast delved into a serious issue: the sexual harassment that teen-agers encounter at work. The reporters did a good job of spelling out why this story is newsworthy, linking it to the #MeToo movement and the prosecution of prominent alleged violators such as Harvey Weinstein. The podcast included several key interviews with young women who had faced harassment while working as well as with a legal expert. The script was well-written and the production was clean and professional. Congratulations on a job well done.

Overall Guidance For The Category: I believe the winning entry is an excellent example of a high-quality multimedia feature that high school students can produce. The students tackled an important topic and conducted real journalism by doing in-depth interviews with their subjects. All multimedia journalists should do the same whether they are telling a story with photos, video or audio.

National/World News With A Local Lens. Judge: Lonnie Isabel

National/World News with a Local lens: Best of your localized coverage, bringing outside stories home to your school through original reporting, including interviews conducted by student journalists (ideally with three or more sources who are independent of each other.) First Place: Townsend Harris, Second Place: Stuyvesant

First Place: Townsend Harris High School
Entry: “Administration, custodial staff address sanitary issues amid COVID-19 concerns” by Samantha Alzate, Isabelle Guillaume, Amanda Renzi

Administration, custodial staff address sanitary issues amid COVID-19 concerns

Judge’s Comments: This resourceful investigation of the shortage of soap in the school’s bathrooms during a pandemic got results. The principal repeatedly ordered more soap. The reporters dig deeper into the story finding out that the chief sanitation worker had just retired and that janitors and administrators have been complaining that budget cuts limit their purchases of soap. All this while students were being urged to wash their hands frequently.

Second Place: Stuyvesant High School
Entry: “’The Sights and the Smells, the Feelings and the Fear:’ A 9/11 Story at Stuyvesant” by Erin Lee and Maddy Anderson

Judge’s Comments: A sensitively written and meticulously reported remembrance of a day in the school’s history 18 years before when the twin towers were slammed into on Sept. 11, 2001 blocks away. Through interviews and a review of a documentary about students who evacuated that day, the reporters blended quotes and details skillfully.

Overall Guidance For The Category: All reporters should remember that a story is just that a story. The people in it should be the driving forces of the narrative, just like any story. They should be interesting or at least do or say interesting things. All stories also have a point, a focus, a bit of news or a lot of news. What this is should be clear in the finished product. It should also have a structure—a beginning, middle and end. Finally, have fun, explore, learn things new. That’s what journalism is all about.

Opinion/Editorial Writing. Judge: Robert A. George

Opinion/Editorial Writing: Persuasive commentary on issues relevant to the high school community. First Place: Bard, Second Place: Townsend, Honorable Mention: Frank Sinatra

First Place: Bard High School Early College
Entry: “Keep Our Park Clean (Literally),” by Alexa David-Lang

Judge’s Comments: As a veteran of New York editorial boards for two decades, I was immediately taken by an almost perfect example of persuasive opinion writing: It has a witty, opener that borders on being rude, but doesn’t cross the line — snarkily taking a dig at baby boomers. But then it gets into the meat of the matter — the loss of natural park space due to an ill-considered flood mitigation proposal.

In short, the piece begins globally — mentioning global-warming — and then jumps into the issue at hand locally: The writer, in an engaging manner, makes the reader understand why they need to be concerned.

David-Lang ended the op-ed with specific action items: Don’t just send in letters to express how you feel about the East River Project: Call the mayor! Demand action. A too-common mistake made by op-ed writers — whatever their age — is getting the readers worked up about a specific issue, but then being vague about what the next step is, what the reader can do about it. I was pleasantly surprised to see that that didn’t happen here.

After beginning the op-ed with a dig at boomers, David-Lang veers toward a nice bit of self-effacing humor in the concluding paragraph: “This is just an op-ed,” showing that the writer doesn’t take it too seriously. But then the writer brings it home: “Go bug the hell out of Bill de Blasio,” the writer exhorts the readers — and then reminds them of the power they have in their own hands by urging them to take to social media. Couldn’t have ended in a better place.

Second Place: Townsend Harris High School
Entry: “Now is not the time to counter-argue the grief of Black students,” by Ifeoluwa Adedokun

OPINION: Now is not the time to counter-argue the grief of Black students

Judge’s Comments: Several pieces took on the issues of race and identity during a year when the entire country was consumed by those questions. Between protest and pandemic, the events of 2020 had a unique impact on students of color. Several entries capture that, but none more strongly than Adedokun’s. Stylistically, this opinion piece is a polemic. The author’s anger and frustration are present throughout. Sometimes that can be off-putting and drive a reader away, but the power in Adedokun’s writing is such that it forces the reader to stay with it — even if you might not agree with the writer.
This piece captures a specific moment in time: dated June 5, it was published just 11 days after George Floyd’s death, as streets nationwide filled up with protesters. Emotions were raw. That comes through so well. Despite the anger in the author’s voice, Adedokun provides advice for those wishing to hear: “Recognize that when people are hurting and they say they are hurting, it is not the time to counter-argue grief. Respect people at this time. Listen to understand. Realize that listening is an honor. Sympathize with them.”
Adedokun’s style is uncompromising — in the best sense of that word. There are certain times when sugarcoating an issue gets in the way of truth.

Honorable mention: Frank Sinatra School of the Arts
Entry: “The (Almost) Soldiers of the Third World War” by Alec Ingamov

Judge’s Comments: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one other entry, which kept coming back to me. The top two pieces are prime snapshots of their respective “moments.” David-Lang’s is clearly a 2019 “before times” opinion piece, while Adedonkun’s is ripped from the headlines of 2020.

But Alec Ingamov’s zeroing in on the targeted drone assassination of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani produced a reported column on the crisis overload a generation felt. Writing in a pre-pandemic February, Inagamov was eerily prescient on what would become the year’s defining mood:

“It’s been some days since the last constitutional crisis … I think. To tell you the truth, it’s getting pretty hard to keep track of it all.” The Soleimani attack had occurred one month before, sparking fears of a new Middle East war among Inagamov’s fellow students. Of course, as Inagamov was writing, the impeachment trial of Donald Trump was concluding.

In words that could easily have been written six or eight months later, Inagamov observed: “Indeed, the news cycle has become more so the news labyrinth, zig-zagging into an oddly grotesque shape which swings one way, then sways the other, and leaves the average American somewhere in the middle of this carnage of truth.”

As noted at the beginning, this was an excellent selection of opinion columns, with rhetorical and stylistic brilliance to be found in just about every submission. The top two stand out due to their economical use of space. With so much information and information sources available to readers, their time is limited. There’s an old phrase, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Make your point as cogently as possible and get out. (While Alec Inagamov’s piece was longer, it was reported out and included quotes from other students. In other words, it wasn’t simply the writer’s voice.)

Secondly, these authors make the reader care about their perspective. David-Lang is passionate about losing natural parkspace, Adedonkun is grief-stricken over the continual devaluation of black lives. Inagamov introduces fellow students (well-placed, as it turns out) fear for their immediate future. The gravity of these emotions keep the reader engaged.

When committing words to the page, every author should put themselves in the place of a potential reader who is thinking, “Do I have time to read this? Why should I care about it?”

Make them care.

Overall Guidance For The Category: This was a difficult task, but hardly a chore because of the strength of the entries — passionate voices, varied styles and informative, authoritative positions.

The difficulty was compounded by the broad time span — spanning from fall of 2019 through this year. That meant the concerns of the students changed over that time — from simple New York City land-use issues to the heavy headlines all society had to grapple with in 2020.

Photojournalism. Judge: Emily Johnson

Photojournalism: A photo that, with its caption, tells its own news or feature story or significantly enhances an accompanying news or feature story. First Place: Midwood, Second Place: Eximius

First Place: Midwood High School
Entry: “Girls Swimming Dives into Season with a Win” by Justin Chow

Judge’s Comments: Justin Chow delivers strong visual storytelling that leaps (or dives, to stick with the wordplay in the headline) off the page. The photos of the swim meet are technically excellent. Thanks to a fast shutter the action is captured crisply, and shooting low from close to the floor gives us great depth and overall composition in the standout lead image. The other two shots round out the coverage beautifully, with nicely captured candid focal points on swimmers’ faces, both close-up and far.

Second Place: Eximius College Preparatory Academy
Entry: “Gen Zs walk out: ‘There’s no Planet B!’” by Jasmin Taylor

Judge’s Comments: With this front-page shot, Jasmin Taylor proves you don’t need an expensive camera to take a great photo. Shooting from that high-up perspective transforms the frame so that the picture tells the whole story in one glance. The sign held by the student in the center sums up the march’s mission, and the deep depth of field allows the viewer to see all the rich background details.

Overall Guidance For The Category: There were a lot of strong entries this year. It was great to see how many of you took the opportunity to cover a major story like the climate strike. Well done!

Some general advice to high school photojournalists: Attention to detail in captions is really important, so don’t skimp on getting first and last names and providing some context. Try to capture moments that don’t break the fourth wall. Shoot in landscape orientation unless you have a very specific reason to shoot portrait. And don’t be afraid to get quite close to the people you’re photographing!

School News. Judge: Michael Elsen-Rooney

School News: Coverage of a school or local community-specific issue with original reporting, including interviews conducted by student journalists (ideally with three or more sources who are independent of each other.) First Place: Townsend Harris, Second Place: Stuyvesant

First place: Townsend Harris High School
Entry: “After alumni share allegations of faculty sexual misconduct, silence from the Townsend Harris administration” by Samantha Alzate, Isabelle Guillaume, and Amanda Renzi

After alumni share allegations of faculty sexual misconduct, silence from the Townsend Harris administration

Judge’s Comments: Tremendous and powerful reporting that raises important questions about transparency in the DOE’s and Townsend Harris’s policies for communicating allegations of sexual misconduct to students. These reporters started with a question – how school officials dealt with accusations of sexual misconduct that came to the journalists’ attention through a new a social media page – and used journalistic tools to answer it. They demonstrated the kind of shoe-leather reporting and attention to detail that are hallmarks of great investigative journalism – tracking down dozens of current and former students, wading through densely-written bureaucratic policy and carefully navigating complex ethical challenges. They are balanced and measured in their conclusions and analysis and raise important and complicated questions about the tradeoffs of protecting privacy vs. supporting students dealing with the fallout of sexual misconduct investigations and the disruption that often follows. The reporters point to some clear areas for potential policy change, including better use of the Crisis Intervention Teams. The holes in policy that emerge in the story are all the more convincing because the reporters clearly gave their administration and the DOE ample opportunity to respond to the reporting, and deeply engaged with those answers. Truly impressive investigative and accountability reporting that could result in real change.

Second place: Stuyvesant High School, School News Submission:
Entry: “Stuyvesant While Black” by Talia Kahan and Erin Lee

Judge’s Comments: Terrific reporting that transitions from a timely look at the reactions of Black Stuyvesant students to the recent racial justice protests to a thorough and nuanced look at the state of anti-Black racism at the school. Full of fascinating and unexpected insight into the ways racism manifests at Stuyvesant, from the role of non-white students in perpetuating it to how school policy can foster or hinder anti-racism, to the promise and pitfalls of social media activism, to a fascinating analysis of costs and benefits of speaking to the media. There’s so much wisdom and complexity in here, I’d hate to boil it down, but my only complaint is that the writing can feel a bit repetitive, with a kind of summary sentence at the beginning of the paragraph and a longer block quote beneath. With such a long story, I worry some readers might drop off midway through. I think some deftly placed atmospheric details, more focus on one student as a kind of “main character,” or just some more varied sentence and paragraph structure could help the reader stay engaged through all this crucially important reporting. But that bit of constructive criticism should only be taken as further evidence of what fabulous and important reporting this is. Bravo!

Overall Guidance for the Category: Congratulations, NYC student journalists of 2020! What a challenging and fascinating time to be covering your schools. Your stories taught me so much about the policies shaping your lives and school experiences, and the hidden aspects of high school that aren’t visible to even the adults paying the closest attention to the school system. A couple patterns that emerged in many of your stories that I loved:

A willingness to call out your schools for failing to live up to the values that they profess. I saw this in a number of the stories – from the essay about the BHSEC closed-door policy to the Townsend Harris investigation. That line of questioning is absolutely fundamental to journalism – asking whether institutions and those in power are acting out their values.
A curiosity about and lack of judgment towards the issues and sources you engaged. You dealt with complex questions like school attendance vs. activism and racism in school walls. You worked through those issues carefully and methodically, treating your sources with respect. Readers can often tell when a journalist has come to conclusions before they even start writing. Your reporting is always richer and more complex if you let your curiosity and empathy drive your reporting and conclusions – always asking yourself what you may have missed.
Some areas for growth:
Think about how to pull your reader in and keep them engaged – even with the seemingly self-explanatory straight news stories. Get to your point quickly, and lead with your strongest material. Keep your writing concise and change up your sentence and paragraph structure to keep your reader on their toes. If your story is longer, think about structuring it around a basic narrative arc or a main character to keep readers engaged.
Lead with the voice of the source who is most directly affected by the issue you’re writing about. It’s important to include the voice of administrators who know a ton about how the school works. But don’t give in to the temptation to let their voice dictate your story. It’s oftentimes the students or staff most directly affected by the issue you’re covering that have the most relevant and informative perspective – and the one you should lead with. Leave the administrator to fill in gaps later in the story or add some context where necessary.

Keep at it in 2021, and I’m excited to see what you produce!

Sports. Judge: Kristie Ackert

Sports: Original reporting of school or local sports teams and events. First Place: Francis Lewis, Second Place: Midwood and Manhattan Center

First Place: Francis Lewis High School
Entry: ‘An Incomplete Goodbye: Senior Student Athletes Open Up,’ by Ariana Rosales

An Incomplete Goodbye: Senior Student Athletes Open Up

Second Place: Midwood High School and Manhattan Center
Entry: ‘Robotics Teams Shake Off the Rust in First Qualifier,’ By Nicholas Morgan, Tracy Lam, and Darnalia Holmes from Midwood High School and ‘STUDENT LIFE: Profile of a Student Skater, by Enlik Tagashiva of Manhattan Center

Judge’s Comments: I enjoyed reading all the entries and I am thrilled to see so much talent trying their hands at sports writing. I chose Francis Lewis’ ‘An Incomplete Goodbye: Senior Student Athletes Open Up,’ by Ariana Rosales, Sports Editor from Francis Lewis High School as the winner and I could not choose between ‘Robotics Teams Shake Off the Rust in First Qualifier,’ By NICHOLAS MORGAN, TRACY LAM, and DARNAILIA HOLMES from Midwood High School and ‘STUDENT LIFE: Profile of a Student Skater, by Enlik Tagashiva of Manhattan Center for second place.

I chose the winner because it checked the boxes on what I think are the two most important things in writing a sports story. First, it was topical with the coronavirus pandemic such huge news, Ms. Rosales took that and applied it to how it affected sports. That is what we do on a daily basis at the paper. Second, the story focused on the athletes and students, bringing the reader into what the impact was on these seniors and how they felt about it. That is exactly the type of story I would want to see if I were an editor of a high school sports section. It also had a good variety of people included in the story.

For the second-place finishers, I really like how skater Ivan Lara’s voice comes to life in the ‘Student Life Profile of a Student Skater. In the ‘Robotics Team Shakes off the Rust in First Qualifier,’ I really liked the lead to the story, which immediately draws you into the moment and the competition.

Overall Guidance For The Category: In sports writing, I have found the key to remember that you are not writing about the event or the game, your focus is always the people. The sport, the game, the event is just the setting. So, finding the person to focus on is the first important decision. It doesn’t always have to be the star or the leading scorer, the player who set up the winning play or the player who scored their first touchdown of the season. The way to find these people to write about is reporting: talk to as many people around the team and game as you can, listen to the way they talk about the game, team and players and find the one at the center of the story you think would be the most interesting to your friends or family. When I first started, I would imagine that I was trying to describe it in writing for my best friend from high school. It’s obviously important to have the fundamental elements of ‘what, where and how,’ in your stories but the ‘who,” is what your readers will relate to. Statistics, scores and plays are just ways to help draw a deeper, more complete picture of the people at the center of the story.

Judges’ Bios:

Kristie Ackert is a veteran sports reporter and sports columnist at the New York Daily News.

Jonathan Bartlett is an award-winning illustrator whose works have appeared around the world in everything from newspapers to book covers…advertising campaigns to movie posters. He is an educator at The School of Visual Arts and serves on the board of directors at the Society of Illustrators in New York City.

Mike Elsen-Rooney covers education for the New York Daily News, and has written about schools for publications including USA Today, The Atlantic and The Boston Globe Magazine. Mike is a former high school teacher and afterschool program administrator.

Robert A. George is a member of the Bloomberg Opinion Editorial Board. Previously, he served on the editorial boards of the New York Post and Daily News.

Professor Vera Haller, an associate professor of journalism at CUNY’s Baruch College, is also an active freelance journalist, covering New York City news as well as foreign immigration stories. She writes for are The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Thomson Reuters Foundation and has practiced all aspects of online journalism – from shooting and editing video and audio reports to producing large multimedia features.

Jere Hester is the founding editor in chief of THE CITY (thecity.nyc), an independent, nonprofit news outlet that serves the people of New York through hard-hitting journalism. Hester, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, previously worked as a reporter and editor at the New York Daily News and served as the founding director of the NYCity News Service at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY.

Lonnie Isabel has been a reporter, editor, and journalism professor, much of it in New York. He is currently a writer and press freedom advocate in Oklahoma.

Professor Emily H. Johnson, an independent multimedia journalist whose work has appeared in The Washington Post, PRI’s The World, Agence France-Presse (AFP), and CNN, is an assistant professor of journalism at Baruch College.

Professor Gisele Regatao is an assistant professor of journalism at Baruch College and a former executive producer and editor for the public radio stations WNYC in New York and KCRW in Los Angeles. She has reported for national shows on topics including Latino vote, COVID in Brazil, a blues legend and fake art. Gisele also created the fiction podcast series Celestial Blood, which was released in English and Spanish.