Each year, The Dallas Morning News honors the winners of its high school journalism competition. We receive entries of work from student newspapers, yearbooks and digital news organizations from high schools across North Texas.
This year, we received over 300 of entries from over 25 schools. They were judged by the following Dallas Morning News reporters and editors: Marcia Allert, Beth Frerking, Paul O’Donnell, Cary Aspinwall, Holly Hacker, Alan James Vestal, Lorena Flores, Nataly Keomoungkhoun, Sarah Blaskovich, Elizabeth Souder, Brian Elledge, Leona Allen, Rudy Bush, Tom Fox, Ashley Landis, Michael Hogue, Laurie Joseph, Ariana Giorgi, Meredyth Grange, Tristan Hallman, Charles Scudder, Cassandra Jaramillo, Dave Tarrant, Dana Branham, Jennifer Emily, Jesus Jimenez, Michael Apuan, Denise Beeber, Kevin Sherrington and Ben Baby. Editor Mike Wilson selected the “best of the best” sweepstakes award winners.
The winners were honored at a reception Thursday at The News. Also honored were the newsroom’s three high school interns for the summer of 2019: Sarah Hui of Ursuline Academy of Dallas, Christine Zacuai of Coppell High School, and Kelly Wei of Coppell High School.
Here are the winners of the 2019 Dallas Morning News High School Journalism Competition, and comments from the judges.
Winner: Sydney Holmes; Lake Highlands High School
We loved the initiative the reporter took in looking into whether the school’s purchase of scooters to get around campus was a smart one — this was one of the few entries that focused on a campus issue that impacts students. Great job holding administrators accountable.
Finalist: Daphne Lynd; Richardson High SchoolSubmission
Strong action in the lede. We liked that the reporter found an issue that has a real impact on students and teachers, and she explained well how the foreign language program works at her school.
Finalist: Kendall Cooper; Marcus High SchoolSubmission
The reporter found a smart news peg for this story about a cool initiative a student is leading. The writer could’ve easily stopped at a profile of this student, but the story is strengthened by getting into the larger issues surrounding poverty and access to feminine hygiene products.
Winner: Skyler Middleton; Marcus High School
Skyler’s narrative following Senior Nick Epperson’s emotional recovery from a tragic accident pulls the reader in from the beginning. She followed up on Epperson’s accident in a thoughtfully written story about a father and son relationship through that journey. The pacing was lively with short sections. Then ending finished with a young man’s inspirational new dream in the face of rehabilitation.
Finalist: Lucas Barr; Liberty High SchoolSubmission
This is a very timely news topic given the rising popularity of vaping among teens. This story was well-researched with good sources, characters and anecdotes.
Finalist: Kate Haas; Hebron High SchoolSubmission
The news feature lede made the reader relate to the sophomore’s pressure-filled role of being a drum major. The writer had an excellent nut graph that made the reader quickly understand why Arriaga’s story is newsworthy and interesting.
Honorable Mention: Kelsey Carroll; Lovejoy High SchoolSubmission
This story had a very interesting character that made for a fun feature. A stronger news peg would have helped make it a finalist.
Winner: Colin Campbell, William Aniol, Luke Nayfa and Parker Davis; St. Mark’s School of Texas
The writers did a good job tackling an enterprise story. After clearly identifying the topic, they talked to numerous sources to give the story the depth it needed to work successfully. The quotes were insightful. It gave an accurate depiction of what high school athletics is about.
Finalist: Kasey Harvey; Liberty High School
This writer had the strongest group of submissions from any school. Despite its brevity, this story earned a spot among the finalists because of its unique angle. The author did the necessary reporting to make this story interesting and a fun read.
Finalist: Zander Feinstein; Yavneh Academy of DallasSubmission
This was an interesting story on the pressures associated with high expectations. This story worked well because of the amount of sources used to tell it. It was a unique approach to tell a familiar story.
Winner: Madeline Sanders; Lovejoy High School
The first job of a feature writer is to find an interesting, compelling subject. Madeline did that by writing about a first-hand observer of the Boston Marathon bombing. She then supplied the kind of detail that gives the reader a sense of being there. Judges particularly liked the anecdote about the policeman’s thumbs up to the lone riders of a tour bus.
Finalist: Alexis Russell; Lovejoy High School
Alexis takes a simple subject — looking back on four years of high school basketball — and weaves an artful tale of the interactions between boys who grew up together on a basketball court.
Finalist: Naha Desaraju; Coppell High SchoolSubmission
Neha digs in and does lots of reporting on an intriguing subject: weight loss among female wrestlers. She covers most of the story, from why they do it to health concerns to body image. Several sources, inside Coppell and out, help flesh out an engaging read.
Winner: Rachel Rouhani; Yavneh Academy of Dallas
The judges found her topic of shomer negiah fascinating and educational. Rachel drew on research and personal experience with the Jewish concept of refraining from physical touch outside of immediate family members. Rachel explained these deeply spiritual concepts in a way that people outside of her faith can respect and appreciate. She argues her views persuasively and offers an uplifting conclusion.
Finalist: Kelly Wei; Coppell High SchoolSubmission
Kelly’s assessment of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ balanced her own experiences with Hollywood’s unfair and short-sighted definition of Asian people. Kelly’s opinions are relatable and real, and her experiences bolster a smart thesis statement, that “In Hollywood, we are never a whole person — merely an amalgamation of poorly fleshed-out, halfway ideas on what an Asian-American experience might look like. In Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu (as Constance Wu) … affords us no one-dimensional stereotypes.”
Finalist: Riley Sims; North Garland High SchoolSubmission
Riley chose a topic that is very important for the school newspaper’s specific audience and argued persuasively and with maturity. Judges appreciated the research and firm, specific conclusion directed at the district. It would have been easy to get lost in the massive topic of technology in schools, but Riley keeps the column focused on the direct cost and academic impact on the newspaper’s readers.
Honorable Mention: Josie Woodward; Liberty High SchoolSubmission
‘Josie’s Journey’ doesn’t squarely fit in the commentary category because it didn’t feel like an opinion piece trying to win over its audience. It’s an essay, beautifully and painfully told. ‘Josie’s Journey’ talks about her mental health issues and offers ways friends and family members can help. The writer should be applauded for her honesty.
Winner: Valerie Benzinger; Lewisville High School
This editorial smartly mixes expert sources, statistics and the writer’s list of stress points to gradually build support for the conclusion that school administrators should do more to alleviate stress on students. Good persuasive arguments throughout.
Finalist: Panther Prints; Plano East Senior High SchoolSubmission
This editorial stands out for the writer’s willingness to tackle a nuanced, difficult-to-explain subject. The writer understands that soft skills often are as important as rigorous academic skills and makes a nicely tiered argument to show how encouraging social and emotional health can make classrooms safer and help graduates adapt to the demands of the real world. The writer’s sharp analytical mind is the real strength of this piece.
Finalist: The Sidekick; Coppell High SchoolSubmission
The writer’s ability to pursue a simple, direct argument makes this a good editorial. One line was particularly touching: “Do we really want to sit here, complaining about security measures that are being taken for our protection, while there are parents, spouses and more sitting in a home that their loved one will never return to?” This frames the issue well, and in a way that is difficult to challenge. That is the mark of a good editorial.
Honorable Mention: Sydney Rezaie, The Episcopal School of DallasSubmission
The editorial does what a good editorial should do. It identifies a problem that touches the lives of many people, explains why change is necessary and then offers a solution. It also does a good job of showing readers the frustrations that students endure.
Winner: Kelly Wei; Coppell High School
Kelly Wei’s first place photo of the young protestor is striking in nature. Well composed and gritty. A good example of using a longer lens and shooting tighter. Not your typical sign photo.
Finalist: Roy Nitzan; Liberty High SchoolSubmission
Roy Nitzan had a good showing from the national school walkout. Not sure which photo was entered since it was a gallery of images. We really like the well-composed photo of organizer Ria Bhasin on the bullhorn. Nice framing and moment.
Finalist: Lauren Landrum; Argyle High SchoolSubmission
Lauren Landrum covered President Donald Trump speaking at the NRA convention. This may have placed a bit higher if there was more of a moment or something else a bit more composed. We know its hard to shoot these kinds of photos from the media riser, so maybe try shooting more of the ‘convention’ where there are a lot of good news features.
Winner: Elizabeth Chan; McKinney High School
A good example of finding a found moment is Elizabeth’s feature of a young girl trying to mimic her older drill team members during what we presume is a halftime performance. The photo immediately resonated with us as we combed through the entries. It was cropped effectively so as to see the communication and the affirmation from the young girl.
Finalist: Abney Garcia; McKinney High SchoolSubmission
Abney’s photo was also a nice moment from a football game. Way to get in their close so we can see the great expressions on their faces. Too many times we see this photographed from too far away with a wide angle lens.
Finalist: Roy Nitzan; Liberty High SchoolSubmission
Roy Nitzan’s photo had a funny moment between a kissing pig and a hesitant soccer coach dressed as bacon. Once again a nice moment with good interaction. The moment outweighed the fact it needed to be cropped. In fact, several entries suffered and were discarded because of poor cropping.
Honorable Mention: Jacey Johnson; Rockwall High SchoolSubmission
We would like to give Jacey Johnson an honorable mention for the nice light and unique angle that made for a creative feature.
Winner: Daphne Lynd; Richardson High School
This was one of the best photos we saw from the whole contest. The use of light is both creative and beautiful. Bravo to Daphne for seeing that light, metering it well and waiting for the action to move through the light. Well done!
Finalist: Kelsey Carroll; Lovejoy High SchoolSubmission
A nice action moment that also tells part of the story of this game. Kelsey timed the shutter to get the ball, the faces of the players and the body language.
Finalist: Abney Garcia; McKinney High SchoolSubmission
A great celebration moment! It was very thoughtful to include a member of the losing team in the frame. Abney was well placed on the field to see both sides.
Honorable Mention: Lauren Landrum; Argyle High SchoolSubmission
Nice peak action, but it needs a crop. It’s a good picture, but it would be a GREAT picture if it was cropped tighter.
Winner: Lauren Landrum; Argyle High School
Angels of Mercy is a good example of a story of hope within the community. Focusing on a place that helps others dealing with an issue that people rarely talk about. It is wonderful to see students go beyond the school and seek out stories within the community.
The videography was well shot and creatively used to cover elements in the story that were not visually friendly, such as the old camera covering the history of the subject. The only thing that could have enhanced the videography would have been more use of natural sound in story transitions.
Crafting the story is the hardest part of a project, and Angels of Mercy crafts a complete story, including elements such as what led to the creation of the ranch. The story reaches into the personal lives of people who have been helped by the ranch and what hanging out with animals means to them. It lets viewers who may be affected by the same issues know that they are not alone in these feelings.
Finalist: Megan Guevara; Mansfield Timberview High SchoolSubmission
Journey to Amara was a great story of what a family went through to bring a child into their family from a different country through adoption.
The story was well crafted with a beginning, middle, and end. There was great use a lot of visual elements that are important to tell a story that has back history and can’t rely on only current visuals. Getting video from the family that they shot during their trips to India help the viewer visualize what the family’s travels were like and were important to the core of the story.
Finalist: Jared Gonzalez-Yapp and Jake Steele; Frisco ISD-TVSubmission
Game Pink was a great example of covering an event the right way. Capturing not only what the event was but also picking up on other storylines such as the loyalty and excitement of the fans.
There were a lot of good visuals with plenty of shots to cover the entire story. Using shots of the event but then also getting the reaction of fans. More use of natural sound throughout the piece would have enhanced the visuals.
Overall a piece that could have easily been put on a local newscast.
Winner: Morgan Reynolds Grace Preparatory Academy
Morgan had a great range of photos, all of which paid attention to light and composition. She has done the work to get out of her comfort zone to make pictures. Her images are clean and easily tell the story.
This was a nice sports portfolio that included great moments. It showed the emotion surrounding sports, along with peak action. The images are clean and well toned. We would love to see your photos off the field.
We loved the image of the little girl with the dance team. That was a really nice moment that we would’ve been glad to come away with from that game. The other two images are nice, but that one was exceptional. Just like the second place entry, your images are clean and well toned, but we’d love to see your images from off of the field.
Informational Graphics Portfolio
Winner: Grace Nguyen, Lovejoy High School
Grace’s graphics were the most consistent in how well they gave the reader multiple pieces of information about a topic — that could enhance a story or stand on their own. Her work is a great example of what can be achieved by combining artistry and researched facts into a narrative. The judges especially liked “The mum: An inside look” for how it compared multiple facets (cost, date ordered, overall experience) across each grade.
The recycling on campus graphic was a colorful way to visualize survey data of fellow students.
The immigration survey graphic’s great use of typography hierarchy made the student survey information easy to read and was a colorful way to present the data.
Illustration or Cartoon Portfolio
Winner: Sumner Wooldridge; The Episcopal School of Dallas
Sumner’s illustrations were well thought out, have a nice style and worked very nicely with the design of the pages. Judges particularly liked the ‘Drinking Dilema’ and ‘Split’ packages.
Kelly’s cartoons have a very nice, unique style.
Jolie’s drawings have a very elegant style. The Freddie Mercury illustration is top-notch.
Page Design Portfolio
Winner: Samuel Goldfarb, St. Mark’s School of Texas
Sam’s entry stood above the rest in a very close contest. His doubletruck layouts were chock full of information, but his deft use of art, breakout information and typography kept them from feeling too dense. His work also displayed a sophisticated use of gutter space that’s difficult to pull off. Excellent work.
Madison showed a wonderful use of white space, which allowed her layouts to breathe. And — we often don’t see this — she displayed a wonderful use of vertical elements in which she used art and type to help guide you down the page. Her Christmas tree layout was very well done. Her page on the soccer coach was engaging, pulling the reader in with small nuggets of information.
In a day when page designers have access to a boatload of fonts, Maddie’s layouts show a disciplined restraint. Her baseball layout was fun, clever and a wonderful little read. The design of her doubletruck had a high degree of difficulty (especially from a readability standpoint) but she executed it very well. That little bit of spot color was a nice touch.
Best Series or Project
Winner: Lily Hager, Kelsey Carroll, Jackie Carroll, Alexis Russell, Nnenna Nchege, Joeley Hedgcoxe and Grace Nguyen; Lovejoy High School
We loved that the Lovejoy students put so much effort and enthusiasm into this State Fair preview issue — which had beautiful photography and followed one of the most important rules of journalism: get out of the office and talk to real people. Great writing and storytelling — especially in the Faces of the Fair feature.
Finalist: Eliana Goodman; The Hockaday SchoolSubmission
Great creativity in this feature, both in terms of the multiple angles around the subject matter and the bold designs that incorporated a number of statistical figures. It was impressive to see what twenty or more contributors could produce around a central theme, though we wish more of the coverage had explored the local and statewide perspectives on guns and school safety — and that students had told more stories from lesser-known shootings around the country.
Finalist: Reya Mosby, Skyler Middleton, Madi Olivier, Ava Bush; Marcus High SchoolSubmission
A lot of high school newspapers tackle big issues, including immigration. And many well-intentioned articles from high school journalists read more like detached research papers. Not these stories here. This package stands out because the reporters showed how Marcus students are directly involved and affected. The three profiles share crisp writing, narrative tension and powerful details, from the Turkish student who could bring only one suitcase and had to decide what to pack, to the Venezuelan student who watched protests in her home country with horror, realizing it could’ve been her. If we were teaching current events in high school, we’d make these stories mandatory reading.
Winner: Coppell Student Media; Coppell High School
Finalist: The Roundup; Jesuit College Preparatory SchoolSubmission
The Roundup has a very user-friendly design for desktop and mobile. Their navigation is easy to follow and very well organized. They have a good variety of stories and keep a good flow of volume. Judges appreciated their approach to story packages for digital readers by including multimedia throughout stories.
Finalist: Wingspan; Liberty High SchoolSubmission
Judges appreciated the breadth of content on the Wingspan website — in particular, the number of multimedia stories including podcasts. The site felt a little less customized than our first place selection (both websites use the same WordPress theme), and the animation of various elements on story pages was distracting to some of the judges, but overall the Wingspan staff’s digital approach to storytelling was easy and exciting to see.
Honorable Mention: The Hawk Eye; Hebron High SchoolSubmission
The Hawk Eye had a good balance of content from across its sections on the front page, and stories included a mix of on- and off-campus coverage. Judges appreciated the use of multimedia throughout stories; the volume of articles and photos was impressive, especially given the paper’s small staff.
Winner: Panther Prints; Plano East Senior High School
We were impressed with their overall quality, commitment to serving their audience, their range of storytelling and willingness to take on timely issues. This group of young journalists reports on how the most critical issues of the outside world impact their world within the high school walls. The visuals were dynamic across each issue, with a compelling use of photography and graphics to help convey their stories in a clear and concise way. Especially notable was Abby Blasingame’s feature on health insurance in the Oct. 18 edition. Her lede featured a student whose mother who chose to feed and clothe her children instead of buying herself health insurance; she ended up with cancer and diabetes. Talk about bringing a national issue home!
The students here addressed serious issues relevant to the campus — specifically, their long centerpiece investigation into high school drinking in the Oct. 26 issue. This was a brave and well-reported piece on the reality of alcohol abuse among teens. What was especially impressive was the follow-up column in the Dec. 7th edition where the two editors-in-chief explained and strongly defended their reporting and ethical standards. The photography and graphics of this publication employ two styles: the cover art is sleek and poppy while the photography and graphics inside easily resonate with the teen audience they’re trying to reach.
This newspaper feels more like a glossy magazine than a newspaper with its broad range of topics and profiles and use of imagery. This publication covers major issues of interest to the student body, with smart use of content not only about students, but also faculty and alums. Their Lookbook and use of photography highlight events on campus.
Sweepstakes: Best Visual Journalist
Elizabeth Chan; McKinney High School
In a field of finalists that included photography portfolios, video, cartoons, page design and graphics, a single image stood out. Elizabeth Chan’s photo of a little girl dancing alongside the school dance team beautifully captures a high school tradition and the process of growing up.
Sweepstakes: Best Writer
Skyler Middleton; Marcus High School
Skyler Middleton’s feature about her classmate’s recovery from a serious accident emerged from a strong field of contenders for this award. Her piece is full of strong detail about Nick Epperson’s accident, his recovery, his relationship with his dad and the future he never planned for.
Most Valuable Staffers
Brooke Thornton, Saginaw High School
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