Press Democrat awards ceremony honors high school students’ journalistic achievements
Griffin Epstein remembered the moment journalism stopped being just another elective class at Petaluma High School and turned into a passion, and now possibly a career. He was covering a story on the lack of equality between the boys and girls basketball programs at his school during his sophomore year - a story that continues to be discussed two years later as he prepares to graduate and attend Indiana University in the fall.
Epstein, along with dozens of high school students from across Sonoma County, were recognized for their journalistic achievements Monday at The Press Democrat's High School Journalism Awards. The annual awards ceremony was held at the newspaper's printing facility in Rohnert Park.
Awards were given in 12 categories, including feature story, news coverage and overall excellence. Student articles and columns highlighted topics ranging from the government shutdown, historical flooding and hate crimes to vandalism and inequality in sports.
“Student newspapers and high school journalism is so vital to our school culture,” said Epstein, 18. “We hold our administration accountable because students need to feel they have power and a say.”
He received first place in the outstanding journalist category, which also came with a $500 prize.
The first place prize in overall excellence went to The Gaucho Gazette student newspaper at Petaluma's Casa Grande High School. Santa Rosa High School's student paper, The Santa Rosan, placed second, while Sonoma Valley High School's The Dragon's Tale took third.
“We are pretty excited to be here because this is the best way to end a year of hard work. It is our payoff,” said Ava Rognlien, print editor of The Dragon's Tale.
Rognlien said the articles her student staff was most proud of this year were on LGBTQ-related issues, as well as the government shutdown's impacts on students - work that was recognized in the news coverage and overall excellence categories.
Riley Zajon, head page editor of Petaluma High School's Trojan Tribune, discussed how journalism is like a team sport and communication is crucial to putting a newspaper together. Zajon, 17, and editorial board member Harmony Jensen said the responsibility they have learned to shoulder as part of the student newspaper has been humbling.
“When you are working on a class assignment you just hurt yourself if you miss a deadline,” said Jensen, 18. “But at a newspaper you are on a whole team, and everyone is affected if something you are working on falls through.”
You can reach Staff Writer Alexandria Bordas at 707-521-5337 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @CrossingBordas.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the awards won by Sonoma Valley High School's The Dragon's Tale. The student newspaper won awards in the news coverage and overall excellence categories.