It’s not even a year old, but the online site for the Berkeley High Jacket has won a prestigious journalism award.
The Columbia Scholastic Press Association awarded the Jacket its “Gold Crown,” award, one of ten such awards handed out to high school websites throughout the country.
“I am very excited,” said Charlotte Wayne, the editor-in-chief of the Jacket [and — full disclosure — my daughter]. “Sometimes you can’t tell how you are being received as a newspaper. It’s nice to be recognized in a positive way.”
The website, which went on-line in September, includes stories that have run in the paper’s biweekly print edition. It also runs multimedia reports on separate topics, and this is what the judges decided distinguished the site, said Wayne.
The Jacket’s multimedia reports include stories on the construction of the Bay Bridge, the falling fortunes of Doggie High, a beloved hot dog stand across from the school that has since closed, the Day of Action against cuts to public education, one on the Berkeley shore, and more.
“Congratulations go to the entire editorial board, with special kudos to the web editors Evan Cohen and Connor Nielsen,” said Dharini Rasiah, the Jacket’s faculty advisor.
The two multimedia editors are Danielle Escobar and Alec Mutter.
When Wayne took over the editor position in the late spring of 2009, she made developing a website a top priority. She reached out to faculty and students in Berkeley High’s Communication, Arts, and Science school to see if they could do videos for the website. Wayne was also trying to expand the pool of students who work for the paper.
“It’s always been one of the Jacket’s biggest challenges, to get involvement from students in small schools,” said Wayne. “Traditionally our writers and editors have come mainly from Academic Choice and recently from International High School. Last spring, … I came up with the idea of involving the CAS video program in order to create unique content for the paper’s website and involve a previously excluded group of students.”
Wayne worked with Rasiah, who teaches video production, to involve CAS students. When there was a problem with the Jacket’s advisor in the fall of 2009, Rasiah stepped up to become the paper’s new advisor, even though she already had a full teaching load.
“She has not only helped with the multimedia part, but has really had a big impact on the paper,” said Wayne.
This is not the only time Rasiah has had a impact on the Jacket. She was a new teacher at Berkeley High in 1999 when a 17-year old Indian girl died of carbon monoxide poisoning in Berkeley. Rasiah helped Jacket reporters gain access to the community of Indian immigrants, and the paper reported how many of them were living in virtual servitude, brought to the United States as sex slaves by Berkeley businessman Lakireddy Bali Redd.
Lakireddy was sentenced to eight years in jail and the Jacket staff won the 2000 Journalist of the Year award from won from the Northern California chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
The Jacket’s two on-line editors spent the entire summer designing the website and have been tweaking it ever since, said one of the co-editors, Evan Cohen. While he and his co-editor Connor Nielsen had done some personal websites, they had never tackled anything as large as the Jacket site before.
Their experience speaks to an essential tenet of the Jacket: while the school provides a faculty advisor, the Jacket staff teach themselves how to put out a news product. The paper is independent from the school administration and is entirely student-operated.
The Jacket currently has 132 contributors, its highest number ever. Other members of the editorial board include Noah Bashevkin, the managing editor, Sasha Ginzberg, the business manager, Chloe Holden and Renee Rao, the news editors, Charley Locke, the opinion editor, Emma Lydon and Emma Snyder, the features editors, Annie Gillies and Frankie Whitty, the entertainment editors, Suzie Hicks and Jake Winkelman, the sports editors, and Harper Scott, the layout editor, among others.
The Columbia Scholastic Press Association competition drew applications from more than 1,558 publications and a panel of judges evaluated the entries at Columbia University in February, The awards were announced Monday.