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MPH student newspaper earns eight gold awards

Advisor credits impassioned students for paper’s success

The Rolling Stone, Manlius Pebble Hill School’s student newspaper, last week was honored with eight gold awards, including Best All-Around Publication, by the Empire State Scholastic Press Association.

In competition with 75 schools from around the state, MPH also won gold awards for originality, service to school, most improved publication, feature story, in-depth coverage, personality/interview and front page. The ESSPA awards were announced Friday, Oct. 21, during the organization’s fall conference, held at Syracuse University.

“Honestly, it feels great,” said Melissa Chessher, advisor to the MPH student newspaper and assistant professor at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communications. Chessher was honored with the association’s Advisor of the Year award.

“My daughter attended MPH, and I always wanted to help with the newspaper because I remember being a high school kid who loved books and writing and how much I enjoyed working on my high-school newspaper, and then my college newspaper,” she said. “I wanted the newspaper to be something that attracted those types of kids, and I hoped those kids might consider studying journalism in college. Having a great high school newspaper helps.”

Staff members of the 2010-11 Rolling Stone earned nine additional awards (silver, bronze, or honorable mention) in categories ranging from photography and special event coverage to editorial, features and entertainment/review.

Chessher said that in an effort to make the paper better, she has urged her students to create a publication that spoke to its audience and covered issues that were important to them and in a voice that felt familiar. The Rolling Stone is published four to five times a year and is read by the school’s 600 students along with faculty, staff and parents.

“I encouraged them to bring ideas that reflected the people, the issues, the things they talked about in their free time,” Chessher said. “We also decided to create some fixtures that added personality and a voice that was familiar.”

Among these new fixtures were an advice column with student Ben Jaworski called “Ask Benji” and a Q&A with alumni.

“Since the newspaper only comes out four or five times a year, I also approached and encouraged their writing to be more ‘magazine-y’ and narrative since we can’t really cover straightforward news,” Chessher said.

She said the paper’s improvement and overall success should be attributed to the hard work of the students.

“I would say they simply worked hard and cared about creating something of value and interest for their school,” she said.

Chessher was especially proud of her students’ efforts toward the paper’s May edition, for which the entire staff worked on a story covering the passing of the school’s headmaster, Baxter Ball.

“I was so impressed with the main writer of that piece, Erin Simmonds,” Chessher said. “She conducted many interviews for that feature, and she had to interview members of his family, including his children, who were grieving the passing of their father. That’s difficult for a seasoned journalist, and she managed to get some amazing quotes.”