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Journalism students find success at state contest

Accepting first place in the novice category of Cover and Endsheet Design, West Fargo senior Elizabeth Vallejo takes her certificate at the NIPA award ceremony from Jessica Ballou, left. Submitted photo

The West Fargo High School journalism students had one of their most successful outings at the state journalism competition on March 26, winning over 30 first-place awards among the 24 West Fargo competitors.

They also won the newspaper sweepstakes state championship for their school paper, the Packer, as well as the yearbook sweepstakes state championship.

“It was an unprecedented year for us,” journalism adviser Jeremy Murphy said. “I couldn’t be more proud of these kids and all of the hard work and dedication they have shown throughout the year.”

During the “journalist in action” portion of the competition, the students sat through a mock press conference. Afterward, they had to perform a variety of tasks – including writing a story, designing a front page and designing graphics – and were judged on the spot. West Fargo students earned 15 first-place awards in this contest.

The students also earned 16 first prizes for categories that required their stories to be submitted beforehand.

“It was a big weekend for us,” head student editor Brittany Rheault said. “The school newspaper is kind of a thankless job. People don’t realize how hard we work on it, so it’s just nice to be recognized.”

The weekend also saw the North Dakota Journalist of the Year award go to West Fargo senior Elsa Bollinger, who had been building up a portfolio all year.

“When I found out, I cried,” Bollinger said. “It is such a passion of mine, and I am very proud of the work I have done here. We have built the Packer up to high standards, and I am just proud to be a part of it.”

Bollinger also took first place in sports writing and framing photography in the journalist in action contest, and finished third in news writing, sports writing and feature writing in the submitted portion.

West Fargo’s Cassy Rokusek was named North Dakota Photographer of the Year, finishing first in the “fill the frame” photography category of the journalist in action contest, as well as third in both action and framing photography. She also finished first in the submitted yearbook personality profile.

In his time as journalism adviser, Murphy has strived to make the Packer staff a more locally active group and make them have a greater presence in the community, particularly online.

“In the past three years, we have become progressively more involved,” Murphy said. “I have encouraged the students to think of all multimedia forms, because you really have to be a jack-of-all-trades in journalism to be successful. My ultimate goal is to give them a leg up when they leave this school.”

The students will head to San Diego on Thursday for the National Scholastic Press Association Spring Convention. Last year, they were named the 10th-best school newspaper in the nation at the event.