Area high school publications win awards, continue longtime commitment to excellence

Submitted photo Pictured are the editors for the Fredonia Spectator. From top: Jack Forster, Victoria Hennessey, Marissa Burr, Emily Smith, Lauren Marshall, Nagely Vasquez, Oliver Madariaga, Allie Cook, Williams Prevet, Emily Brown, Alex Rush, Josephine Tomaszewski, Tess Corell and Dominic Gullo.

With many jobs and businesses having to focus their resources into online engagement, a new challenge is being posed to those places to maintain productivity. Newspapers are going through the same thing — even award-winning high school publications.

The Spectator, which has been the Fredonia High School newspaper since the 1960s, has an excellent track record of success over the past couple decades. This year was no different. At this year’s New York Press Association Awards that took place in March, the Spectator cleaned up in the awards department.

The Spectator was awarded the Best High School Newspaper for 2019, earning 65 contest points, headlined by winning first place for design and winning 11 other awards.

“Full-bleed photos on covers; clean and consistent font choices for headlines, body text, photo captions,” the judges said of the Spectator. “Nice use of photography, graphics and original creative illustrations; the inclusion of local advertisements — all of these elements have placed the Spectator at the top of the list. Students should be very proud of their collective efforts.”

The field against which the Spectator competes is deep, featuring the big schools from all across the state, such as some Long Island schools and the field is judged by people in the industry outside of New York state. The competition is pretty fierce, making the accomplishments of the Spectator that much more impressive.

“We were excited because it took us 20 years to win this particular award for the first time,” said Lisa Reinhardt, a Fredonia teacher and the staff adviser for the Spectator. “It’s very competitive, some different awards are broken down by enrollment normally but this one is everybody. The first year we entered, we only won three things.”

Reinhardt and her mother, Dadie Sedota, both serve as the advisers for the Spectator, and in their tenure, the paper has seen some success. The Spectator also won this award last year and was able to attend a big celebration in Albany, where the students on staff were able to connect with journalists in the field and participate in workshops. This year, they were slated to head to Saratoga for a similar convention.

Unfortunately, like everything else, that convention was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The upheaval COVID-19 has had on high schools is well documented, with Reinhardt now being forced to teach her classes online, including the two journalism classes she teaches that help support the Spectator. It also leaves the Spectator in a spot where most other extracurricular activities don’t have room to thrive, and can only thrive based on the dedication of the students.

For Reinhardt and Sedota, the dedication of their students can’t be questioned.

The roughly 45 students that the Spectator has produce content for them, led by the advisers and the students who serve as editors for the paper are continuing to produce content and issues, despite having to do so remotely.

“We’re actually in the middle of a deadline now,” Reinhardt said. “We’re going to publish it online and we may be able to do physical copies but we’re not sure.”

The Spectator, which is more of a magazine format than a newspaper, normally releases an issue per month of the school year, normally missing an issue due to a break in the school. Now with an unprecedented break from school, it would have been easy for the Spectator staff to go on hiatus until things return to normal. Instead, they continue to make content.

“We’re actually publishing through the emergency situation,” Sedota said. “We’re having issues coming out, but it has been really interesting. When the school closed we weren’t sure if we could get more papers, but using Zoom and the other technology we have, we’re able to all stay home and communicate with the kids.”

While the publication is normally 24 pages, due to various difficulties adapting to online, the May edition of the Spectator will only be 16 pages. That isn’t for lack of content though. With such a large amount of kids who contribute, not every story written gets published.

“It’s competitive,” Sedota said. “We don’t have to run every story that’s written, we usually run about 30 in an issue. If we have 20 extra stories we can hold them back for development and run the stronger ones. The students decide what’s in the paper, we might make adjustments, but it really is up to them.”

The quality of content hasn’t dipped either. While Reinhardt and Sedota don’t want every story to be bleak, which may be difficult given the events, the students have found interesting angles to take their stories.

“The students lost sports, they lost prom and they lost graduation,” Sedota said. “So the students looked for what was happening, like what’s happening with students who lost sports.”

The journalism the students are doing have landed on some interesting discoveries as well. With more leniency on how the students live their days, they find themselves waking up a little later in the day. Related to getting to sleep in, the students have found that they feel more productive when they’re able to sleep past their normal wake-up time of around 7 p.m.

“They’ve learned that it’s something the school may want to consider,” Sedota said. “They’re writing about how school starts too early for kids, and the paper has written about that excessively and it’s something they’re genuinely concerned about.”

While Reinhardt and Sedota have to spend the beginning of the year teaching the kids basics, the students have taken those basics and ran with them, having a good mix of editorials and features in their monthly production. And the work comes without a lot of recognition, which makes the awards they earn that much more meaningful.

“I’m proud of students,” Reinhardt said. “They work so hard, and it’s nice for them to be recognized. The school newspaper isn’t something people realize all that goes into it until you do it. They don’t do big assemblies for the newspaper.”

While this edition of the Spectator won’t have a plethora of pictures, the space left by pictures will be filled by content. The May edition of the Spectator will be published on the Fredonia school website, and is up in the air on whether or not it will see a physical print. But another thing the Spectator has going for it is support from the administration.

“The administration has been very supportive of the publication,” Reinhardt said. “We would not be able to continue to do this without them.”

Similarly to the award winning Fredonia Spectator, the Brocton Review has experienced similar success in recent memory. The success of the Review shouldn’t come as a surprise, given who their staff adviser was just a few years ago.

Sedota, now co-adviser of the Spectator, was in charge of the Review, before handing it off to Rose Carr. Carr, an English teacher at Brocton High School, is also the president of the Western New York School Press Association, leaving the Review in a place to thrive, which it has.

Unlike the Spectator though, the staff size at the Review is much smaller.

“I think we had nine kids last year,” Carr said. “This year we had 10.”

The contrast in staff size is a large difference from the over 40 students that contribute to the Spectator. In spite of that though, the Brocton Review is right in the thick of competition with schools of all sizes.

“Brocton is a small school,” Carr said. “The fact that we are able to compete against schools much bigger than we are is a testament to the dedication of our Brocton Review crew.”

The Review won several awards at the New York Press Association awards, including winning the awards for Best News Story and Best Column, while finishing third in the Design category, and taking second place in the General Excellence category.

“My students work very hard to put out a quality newspaper,” Carr said. “When their efforts are recognized by the New York Press Association, it reinforces their confidence as writers.”

And much like the Spectator, the Review hasn’t stopped, even while facing the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite having a smaller staff, the student writers at the Review are continuing to make content. While there won’t be a physical copy published, Carr said the content should become available through alternative means.

“While my students are still writing articles, unfortunately we are not able to lay out our pages and compile our issues,” Carr said. “Students do not have access to our layout program on their laptops or Chromebooks. We are hoping to publish individual articles online, but putting together entire issues is not possible at this time.”

While most students have seen their extracurriculars end, both the Spectator and the Review continue to run smoothly.


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