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2023 NHPA Distinguished Journalism Award winners and judge’s comments in the college and high school divisions

KEENE – The New Hampshire Press association hosted its annual workshop and awards luncheon for high school and college journalists on April 12 at Keene State College. Our thanks to Keene State Journalism Department for hosting the event and to Journalism Professor Emeritus Rose Kundanis for sponsoring the lunch.

Judges awarded First Place for General Excellence in the High School Division to Mouth of the River, the student publication at Oyster River High School in Durham. First Place in the College Division went to The Clock of Plymouth State University.

Here are all the results and judges’ comments. Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to our workshop presenters. Awards in the Professional Division will be presented at the NHPA Annual Awards Banquet on June 20 at the Institute for Politics, St. Anselm College.

HIGH SCHOOL DIVISION

Feature Writing

1st Place

Oyster River High School         

Mouth of the River

Walking the Tightrope

Abby Owens

An excellent piece of reporting that demonstrates exceptional writing skills – and maturity – for a high school student. Based on four months of searingly revealing interviews, mostly with other students, this dramatic and disturbing story is handled with care and compassion by the writer, who deftly uses details – postures, settings – to vividly convey the adolescents’ pain and despair. The writer’s message is powerful: between academic pressure and 24/7 social media competition, many kids in this community are not ok.

2nd Place

Londonderry High

Lancer Spirit

Lancer ‘Angels’ go to great lengths for those in need           

Kaylee Mague

A lively piece about a familiar way to support cancer patients, donating a 10- or 12-inch swag of hair for custom wigs – but with a curious twist. At this high school, the haircuts are performed as part of a public ritual that celebrates the donors and the cause. The writer elicits touching anecdotes from girls telling what inspired them to participate. Like any canny newspaper person, the writer appended four or five additional photos and first-person comments to attract maximum readership to that week’s edition!

3rd Place

LEAF Charter School

LEAF Out Loud

Loveletter to the Internet           

Shav Kinderlehrer

This feature details the 28-year evolution of the internet from 1996 to today, an interesting choice for a student who has no lived experience with the “before” time. The piece could serve as a primer for two demographics: certain elder folks for whom the internet’s transition from zero to 1.0 to 2.0 was basically magic; and for the writer’s own cohort, which might consider the clunky days of the fledgling internet laughable but is urged by the writer to imagine the dimensions of the yet unknown 3.0. It would be great if the student could enlist a mentor to help polish what is otherwise a solid piece.

News Coverage

1st Mouth of the River, ORHS

Hate Speech at Oyster River High School

Mia Boyd

Outstanding coverage of multiple hate-speech incidents that arose shortly after the start of the 2023 school year. This story has it all: detailed reporting, clear writing, and the necessary background to help the reader understand the challenges facing the school administration, students, parents, and the community-at-large. Well done, Mia!

2nd Lancer Spirit, LHS

PSAT: Perturbed Students, Admin, Teachers

Lily Abrams, Bridget Berry, and Kaylee Mague

Good, solid reporting on what happened the day the College Board’s online platform failed just as Londonderry High School students were to begin taking the PSAT standardized exam – a stressful time for many under perfect conditions. Extra points for the accompanying quote box.

3rd Let the middle person speak
Lancer Spirit, LHS
Rachel Hutchinson

A well-crafted opinion piece that argues “someone from the middle of the class” should be allowed to speak along with the class president and valedictorian on graduation day. How to go about selecting that person? The author has an answer for that too. Even those who disagree should be impressed.

Sports Coverage

1st Place

Oyster River High School

Mouth of the River

Oyster River vs. Souhegan varsity basketball gamecast

Kevin Kell

Exceptionally well-done game cast that captured the ebb and flow of a contest that eventually ended in overtime. The announcers did a nice job not overcooking their roles, yet provided viewers with a clear, accurate account of the action taking place. This would be a strong entry even at the college level.

2nd Place

Londonderry High

Lancer Spirit

Lancer Hockey plays for “something bigger than themselves”

Kelly Egan

Nice story about players taking the ice for a cause, told using multiple sources.

3rd Place                     

Londonderry High

Lancer Spirit

Class of 24′ ends time under the lights the way it started: winning

Dillon Tufts

Story captures the feeling of how a high school season — even a successful one — can be bittersweet for seniors when it has to end.

Best Podcast/Multimedia

1st Place
Lancer Spirit, LHS
Get ink-spired by these local tattoo artists

Corah Daigle

This was really well edited, shot and produced – great work! You clearly asked good questions and have an eye for B-roll. I appreciated the tight length too — I can tell a lot of thought went into how this was assembled.

2nd Place

Mouth of the River, ORHS

Chris and Koushik podcast

James Li

Personable video of in-depth analysis into different artists’ songs. I love the use of the “song dissection” format on student-made music. I could see this working well as a podcast with more samples of the song itself and the artists responding to them. 

14. Best Photo/Video

1st Place

LEAF Charter School

LEAF Out Loud

Sam Caserta   

Nice depth of field, light and color. The focus is sharp. Playing around with different crops to avoid placing the frog right in the center of the frame could potentially make the image more engaging to the viewer.

No 2nd or 3rd

General Excellence

1st Place

Mouth of the River

Oyster River High School

Outstanding work on an array of meaty topics. Some of the highlights: Kevin Kell’s story “Beyond the Cut” was excellent. Getting cut from a high school sport is a huge thing that happens to kids, but isn’t usually talked about except in whispers. I liked Kell’s positive spin on one of life’s tough realities. There was an error in the spelling of Fournier’s name in the last graph of the story.

Abbie Owens’ ChatGPT story was amazing, honest and well crafted. Her story titled “”Walking the Tightrope on teen mental health was also a standout, though it did not include links to suicide prevention hotlines or mental health aid hotlines. Always include those in a story like this.

In general, stories were well-written and relatively error free. That said, a story about on-call counselors called for student feedback, but didn’t give a point of contact for students to give that feedback.

James Li’s Who’s that teacher profile on paraeducator Jackie Casey contained an error. The story said she worked at Cartels, a little pizza place in Dover. Actually, pretty sure he meant Cartelli’s North End Pizza & Pasta.

Want to give a nod to all the Scan the QR code entry points in stories. Loved Hannah Klarov’s podcast on Apple vs. Android.

A visual feature on The Photographers of ORHS was nice, but the photos should have been much bigger. Website space is endless!

Other standouts include: A Conversation with Dariia, a Ukrainian student and soccer player; Justin Partis’ story on Doomscrolling. Loved it and identified with it; and James Li’s excellent history piece of Dudley Dudley.

Mouth of the River is an excellent publication. The staff should be very proud for tackling tough stuff and doing it well.

2nd Place

The Launchpad

Pinkerton Academy

Nice job by the Launchpad staff. Lots of interesting stories about high school life at Pinkerton. The students and staff are lucky to have you to inform them about their school community.

That said, I thought the Launchpad could have used some higher octane fuel for ignition. In general, the publication took a softer approach to school news. In future, the staff might want to consider tackling some harder hitting stories.  Also, it looks like sports could be expanded beyond Athlete of the Week.

In addition, I did not see many points of entry to multi-media add-ons like podcasts or videos. It would be a great learning experience to do that next time. For example: The story about former N.H. Supreme Court Justice John Broderick could have been filmed or a podcast might have been a great choice. Good job that mental health hotline numbers were included in the accompanying graphic.

The softer approach to news in The Launchpad was quite apparent in several stories in which the lede of the story was buried. The story on school safety 10 years after Sandy Hook doesn’t really get to the meat of the matter until paragraph 5. Also, the story had a weird hybrid quality. There were some first-person comments in it. It was difficult for readers to tell if this was a news story or an opinion piece. It might have been better to structure it as a Q & A.

The Flex Period story might have been better as a traditional news story rather than “one student’s perspective.” The writer had the results of a survey taken by 257 at Pinkerton. That’s significant since most at the school said flex time is a waste of time and students spend their flex period on their cell phones. That’s the lede. You had a gem of story here, but let it get away.

Behind the Scenes at Pinkerton Academy story was too much of mixed bag roaming from school counselors to custodians. Might have been better to concentrate on one group. Also, counselor was spelled councilor in one instance. Better editing needed.

The lede was buried in the dress code story follow. Simply stated, it should have said students are happy with the new dress code they helped to create. Also, the follow never specifically states what the new dress code is. I had to go to the November issue to find that. A small summary of the change was needed in the follow-up story.

3rd Place

LEAF Charter School

LEAF Out Loud

LEAF Out Loud is  well-designed and well-written. Good editing, mistake free. That said, there is room for improvement. The magazine had no multi-media entry points for podcasts or videos, which would add a lot of interest for your audience.

In addition, I thought LEAF could use an infusion of original content. In fairness, art magazines — by definition — are somewhat introverted and can be lacking in universal appeal.

LEAF seemed to rely mostly on movie and music reviews instead of short stories, poetry or visual arts. There was even a review of a pumpkin spice cupcake recipe!

I think the contributors need to write more and bare their souls to connect with people. That’s what artists are supposed to do — connect us.

The Spooky Door, a short story by Bennett Hook, was one of the few attempts at original writing. I applaud his efforts to give it a shot and hope future LEAPers follow suit.

COLLEGE DIVISION

Feature Writing

1st place

Main Street Magazine, UNH

My Summer in the Piss Shack

Kayleigh Ferik

Readers love this kind of quirky feature, in this case taking readers of all generations back to their worst summer job ever that perhaps had unexpected outcomes. The piece is by turns hilarious, disgusting (the titular wildlife pee puddling in the counselors’ cabin) and heartwarming as our cranky but intrepid narrator perseveres through four weeks at a hardscrabble camp in the hinterlands of Maine, where the only refuge is a corner booth at nearby Wendy’s. Readers are right there with you every step of the way!

2nd place

The New Hampshire, UNH

Israel-Palestine conflict and its effect on UNH

Abigail Driscoll

This seemed to begin as an op-ed piece about a pro-Gaza rally but the writer was able to shift to a less personally invested tone. This student is a talented writer and reporter who covered an event connected to shattering human catastrophes that have created what is one of the most incendiary issues – rivaling climate change – in this generation’s young lives.

3rd place

Main Street Magazine, UNH

Social media self-commodification

Lilly Cassely

This feature is intriguing from the start for someone not aware that self-commodification has been a thing. The writer raises an alarm, saying that everyone needs to understand both the intentional scheme of the corporate masters of the internet universe and its unintentional (for the users) consequences, aptly laying out evidence of both. This extensive and detailed report arrives at the dark conclusion that humans are in the process of ceding their own unique and precious engagement, specifically with art and music, to algorithms.

News Coverage

1st Place

Housing in Durham
The New Hampshire Staff, UNH

Well-written and interesting and easy to read. The personal story was compelling and a good entry point into a bigger story of import. The tie-in to a larger issue and point of the story could have come higher.

2nd Place

The New Hampshire, UNH

Students for Life event sparks protests on campus           

Kaylin Moriarty and Melanie Matts

A well-written story about a complicated set of events. It had a good flow with nice setup for quotes. There was lots of lively background color added as well. The lede was a bit heavy on unfamiliar names of people and organizations, which tends to weigh it down and muddy the main point.  

3rd Place

The New Englander, New England College

Ramaswamy Protestor

Michael Barnard, Trey Lewis, Katelyn Arp          

A solid story based on a single speaker. It was not complicated but well-executed nonetheless. In speeches and interviews, it can be hard to prioritize the issues, but this was well-done with a good summary right up top.

Sports Coverage

1st Place

The Clock, PSU
Mauraders crush Keene 29-7
Quinn Hagerty
This story captured the violence inherent in rugby — and how the members of the PSU women’s club team eam deal with the inevitable injuries in the absence of support from the college athletic department. This quote was especially powerful: “‘We don’t have a trainer to go and get checked by, we just go to urgent care, [or] go to Shannon because she’s a nursing major,” Landmesser explained. Yikes. Story would have been stronger had the athletic department been contacted to explain their mostly hands-off approach on club sports.

2nd Place

The Equinox, KSC

Campus community honors Kelsey Mayer

Tim Bruns

“Heart-wrenching story about the tragic loss of a beloved daughter, friend, and college athlete. One quibble: the story mentions “the accident,” but provides no context. When we do that as writers, we leave it to the reader to speculate. Better to report what happened, eliminate conjecture, and move on. Assume some readers are coming to the story for the first time.

3rd Place

The Clock, PSU

Panthers raise the bar at second annual power lifting competition

Quinn Hagerty

Nice story about an under-the-radar event that brought athletes together on campus, but please, find a better lede than the weather.

Best Podcast/Video/Multimedia

1st place

The Equinox
The Haunting of Huntress

Zachary Keenan

The tone and scripting of this was perfect. I love that you got resident services to participate, and I laughed out loud at the lower-thirds for the ghost. I was impressed with the bit of genuine tension and intrigue you built while still keeping it very light and tongue-in-cheek. As a former college journalist myself, I’m being serious when I say this kind of content is such an important part of the craft! All your submissions have a real voice, and show a lovely sense of curiosity and creativity in how you engage with the campus community. I hope you enjoyed making these pieces as much as it seems like you did and as much as I enjoyed watching them. 

2nd Place

The New Englander, NEC

Presidential Candidate Dean Phillips

Kyle Dobrie, Michael Barnard, Scott Perry

Very good questions – I was impressed with how current and topical you kept this while addressing issues important to students. Arranging, planning, scripting and editing an interview like this in a very short timeframe is no small feat and a crucial journalism skill. And a small thing, but I liked the use of the youtube “chapters” to break the interview up and make it navigable.

3rd Place

The New Hampshire Podcast Network, UNH

Refugee from Ukraine in Portsmouth

Alexander Rapp

This is a hugely important subject and an impressive find for an interviewee. Kudos for sharing his story and bringing home a topic that can feel very remote. Your questions were compassionate, and he was a good talker. Suggestions for elevating of the end product would be a little more editing and more targeted questions in an intentional order, as well as anything you can to do improve sound quality (suggest having the subject record themselves on their cell on their end of a Zoom call, and send you the tape). The subject and questions are really impressive and solid, and a little more production (and/or pre-interviewing so you can really hone in on the most important points in the final interview, if you don’t plan to edit it much) would make this even more impactful. Nice work. 

Design/Graphics

1st Place

The Clock, PSU

Jessen Delaney

STAY CHEAP: 5 things to do in Boston on a budget

This is nicely done, clean and useful. Very beautiful to look at. Writing was good in places, but there were a couple of typos. Maybe links were provided on Instagram, but more info, a web link or QR code or something would have made it more useful.

2nd Place

Grime Photoshoot        

Main Street Magazine, UNH

Matti Adams, Justin LeBlanc

Looks professionally done. I like the overprint of the black and the background behind the series of photos. Nice color selection.

3rd Place

Campus Commentary Cartoons

The Saint Anselm Crier

John Provost               

The ChatGPT one made me laugh. Style is simple, gets points across and reproduces well.

Best Photo/Video

1st Place

The Equinox, KSC

Spring Concert revival

Nicole Dumont

Excellent lighting and dynamic energy. Not an easy image to create. If I had one critique, it would be that there’s a little too much space at the top of the photo; I would have cropped down to remove the hand on the very top left corner of the frame.

2nd Place

Main Street Magazine

God and Country No.1
Se Choi
This photo shouldn’t work compositionally, and yet somehow it does. It’s an intriguing frame with the significant empty space in the center, the people’s backs and the random arm in the foreground, the distant walkway. It imparts a sense of disorientation and distance, which is what I think the photographer was aiming for.

3rd Place

The New Englander, NEC

Holi Festival at NEC

Lilli McCormack
Nice lighting and color. Strong sense of place and of the celebration. The frame is a little too tall and could be cropped to better focus on the subject. Also, be careful to not cut off your subjects at the ankles.

General Excellence

1st Place: The Clock, PSU
Staff
Everybody likes a rebirth story and happily the Clock lives up to our hopes. Issue had everything you want in a college paper: Hard news about student government transparency; school-interest stories about Pathern Premiere, that Robert Frost statue, study spots; reviews of art and food but also hiking (this is Plymouth after all); opinion pieces; even tedious but useful items like the WPCR schedule.  Layout could use improvement – I got a little lost following stories – but this is a great effort, especially built from scratch.

2nd Place

The Equinox website, KSC

Staff                

“‘At-risk pay’ is the sort of story that gets few clicks, takes a lot of time and double-checking, irritates sources but is central to the role of local journalism. Kudos. Good mix of coverage, from student life to sports to uncomfortable news like the hazing scandal. I give it the edge over equally good coverage at UNH because this may be the best-looking news website I’ve ever seen, both on the web and, more importantly, on my phone. Easy to navigate, easy on the eyes.

3rd Place

The New Hampshire, UNH

Staff

I like the coverage of the “budget reset” – the biggest thing affecting UNH right now. I don’t think this paper can cover this subject too much, even though (let’s be honest) a lot of student readers’ eyes will glaze over. The New Hampshire has maintained high standards for so long that it’s easy to take it for granted. It’s a solid university paper so it almost feels unfair to give it a third place. The online layout could be spruced up.