By Tara Cavanaugh
A Pacemaker Award is a big deal. A really big deal. As in, it’s slightly similar to being nominated for an Oscar: even if you don’t win, the nomination remains a distinction that proudly precedes you.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Community High School’s student newspaper The Communicator is one of this year’s nominees for a Pacemaker Award. Again.
If The Communicator wins the Pacemaker Award at the Scholastic Press Association Conference in San Antonio, Texas, it will be its fifth time winning the highest honor in student journalism. The paper has already earned four other Pacemakers, two in the online category and two in the newsmagazine category.
“What’s really cool about (the Pacemaker) is that professional journalists judge it,” said Tracy Anderson, who teaches the journalism classes at Community. “These are people who are in the industry and they’re saying Wow, what you guys are doing is really special.”
Not only is the paper one of just nine nominees for the Pacemaker in the Newsmagazine category, but two students could win national honors too: Colleen O’Brien is a finalist for Design of the Year and Kate Summers is a finalist for Multimedia News Story of the Year.
Melanie Langa, Daniel Langa, Annabel Weiner and Vittoria Meloni have already won Honorable Mentions in the Multimedia News Story category for their coverage of President Barack Obama’s speech about college affordability at the University of Michigan in April 2011.
Senior Kate Summers, the co-editor-in-chief of The Communicator’s website, was particularly surprised by her nomination for the national award. She just started on staff last year. She said through The Communicator, she’s discovered a class full of supportive friends, a solid mentor in Anderson and a passion for journalism.
“School hasn’t always been the easiest thing for me,” Kate said. “So being a finalist for a national award, in something as big as this, was just incredible.”
The story that earned her the nomination was called “An opposition’s voice: the Wisconsin recall.” Her story localized the efforts to recall Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, featuring interviews with a protester, an economist from Ann Arbor who lives in Wisconsin and a former Wisconsin resident who now lives in Ann Arbor.
Kate’s story was featured on the website, which has a different feel than the print edition of The Communicator. The print edition comes out monthly, featuring bold, creative design and lengthy stories. The three-year-old website is more hard-news based, and updated often with timely stories about meetings and events.
Print and web staff are in separate classes, and the students are working on creating more crossover, said editor Mari Cohen.
The key word there is “students,” because the paper is fully student-run. “The students have to make the decisions about content, they have to make the decisions about design,” Anderson said. “With that comes responsibility.”
“She really lets us do the work and lets us write the articles,” Kate said about Anderson. “She’s a great mentor and gives us great advice, but she really lets us run with the paper. You’ll notice different (individuals’) writing styles in our newspaper.”
The development of the students and the paper is the most important thing in the class, Anderson insisted. She said she’s “extraordinarily proud” of her students and she could easily cover the classroom walls with the hundreds of awards from national and state-level organizations that the paper has won. But she thinks that would send the wrong message to the students and place too much focus on the winnings.
“It is really nice to step away from our work and say, what we are doing does matter and people recognize it outside,” Anderson said. “But in a couple of weeks, we’ll forget about it and just focus on our work.”