CHS newspaper attains top honors – again – Chanute Tribune

CONNIE WOODARD

USD 413 public relations

Once again, the Chanute High School’s newspaper has been named All-Kansas – the highest designation that Kansas Scholastic Press Association bestows upon publications.

“It’s a big deal,” said Dustin Fox, who teaches journalism and English at CHS and oversees the students who write, edit and design regular issues of The Comet. Just one other Class 4A school received the award that typically goes to larger schools with bigger programs.

“We’ve done very well traditionally,” Fox said. His first newspaper staff “worked hard staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning designing the newspaper from scratch,” he recalled. “I think they set the tone from then to now, earning their first All-Kansas award.”

Since then, The Comet has earned that distinction seven of the nine years Fox has served as the newspaper’s advisor. 

The staff “wanted to make it something they could be proud of and this community can be proud of and that has been passed to future staffs,” he said.

Unlike the KSPA state journalism contest in which the students will participate on May 6 in Lawrence, the All-Kansas critique is a review and rating by judges of the finished editions produced over the school year. Following a checklist, the judges provide feedback about the newspaper’s coverage, reporting, visuals, design and leadership, and issue an overall rating.

Fox credited senior Annie Brazil’s leadership with this year’s success.

“The time and dedication it takes to earn an award like this is not possible without her leadership and her work ethic,” Fox said.

Since beginning as a page editor two years ago,  Brazil  believes  the  issues have gotten better visually and the content is better, with more focus on how the stories are relevant to students and the local community. As this year’s editor-in-chief, she has led the planning sessions for each issue, overseen the page editors and designed the front page of the newspaper.

“I personally have gotten a lot better at attention to detail and knowledge of design in general and the program we use,” she said. “At the end of the issue, I do the fine-tuning … and go over every page.”

She holds up a front page she’s proud of with a lead story about texting and driving beneath the headline, “The Price of Distraction.” A large photo captures the eye at the top as does a horizontal colored banner midway down the page with comments inside. Along the right side of the page are results from “a survey with graphs that are easy to look at and absorb from afar,” she said.

She’s emphasized the visual aspect of the paper.

“The design is consistently attention-drawing, which is important when we’re distributing it to high school students,” Brazil said.

Brazil and her page editors also stepped out to tackle some controversial issues this year – issues under debate at the state and federal levels, but not necessarily talked about in the local community.

The spotlight pages designed by page editor Mercedes Ansell focused on those issues. 

“I’m really proud that for spotlight we did topics that were very controversial that we’ve always been scared to do in the past,” Ansell said. “This was my senior year and I wanted to open people’s eyes to the facts of the world, that our world isn’t perfect, and in high school we’ve been sheltered from those fears,” she said.

She put a lot of thought into the design of those pages, bouncing ideas off her fellow staffers and Fox.

“For the intense topics, I did photo illustrations because I wanted to put an image in people’s minds before they read (the story),” Ansell said. “I know the judges liked the fact we had controversial topics and I feel they (appreciated) the fact I sent surveys out to students and got local statistics.”

Not everyone reacted positively to The Comet’s stories about sexual assault, rape or LGBT issues in communities and schools.

“A lot of people really liked that we were bringing up such controversial things. Some of the students were upset at first, but after talking to me they realized it was necessary,” Ansell said.

Those same issues “are the ones we ended up getting commended for by the All Kansas judges,” Brazil said. “They liked our bold stories and the fact we chose to write about them.”

The maturity of this year’s staff led to other changes as well.

“We had a lot of senior editors this year who had a lot of experience and have grown through the years,” Fox said. “They were willing to step out of their comfort zones and try new designs and push the envelope from a design perspective.”

Kaleigh Ludlum, page editor for the Arts and Entertainment page, challenged herself to “creatively find a way to put a graphic with each topic” on her page.

“My page is kind of all over the place,” she said. It’s about whatever people are talking about or what is trending at the moment. It was “really fun for me to get creative on my page.”

A sophomore and first-year staffer, Dustin Vargo is a news editor and writer for The Comet.

He said he likes writing about “stuff that matters,” like the budget cuts, the possibility of a culinary arts program and sports reclassifications.

He’s proud of what they’ve accomplished this year.

“We take our time to edit. We catch a lot of mistakes that other papers don’t get,” he said. “It’s very cool to know you’ve done that well and that a whole lot of professionals think you have a really good paper.”

Ansell agreed.

“In general, the judges thought we were a very professional paper for being a high school paper,” both with its layout and content. “They even complimented our font choice,” she said.

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