For Sandpoint High School junior Jesse Webster Merwin, love of writing began at an early age.
“I grew up having my mom and papa read to me,” said Jesse. “When I was 8 years old, I started to write stories. A friend and I wrote a 12-page mystery back then.”
But it was when she was in seventh grade and started to read the Sandpoint High School student newspaper, the Cedar Post, that Jesse became interested in journalism.
“Bailey (her sister) would bring home the Cedar Post and I would read every word,” said Jesse. By the time she reached her freshman year, Jesse said she read it cover to cover right when it came out and would eagerly await publication of the next issue, usually about three weeks later.
Now, as she finishes her junior year at Sandpoint High School, Jesse is proud to say that next year she will be the editor in chief of the Cedar Post, an award-winning publication.
Students from Sandpoint High School’s Cedar Post and Monticola, the school’s yearbook, attended the National Journalism Education Association High School Convention in Portland recently and both publications came home with several awards.
“There were about 3,000 people at the conference and I believe there were about 500 schools,” said Jennifer Prandato, this year’s editor for the Cedar Post. “People came from pretty much every state in the U.S.”
According to Barbara Tibbs, the staff adviser for Monticola, this was the first time in 10 years the yearbook staff attended the conference because Cedar Post staff typically attended the fall conference.
“The newspaper staff returned to going to the spring conference and we (the yearbook staff) could go together,” said Tibbs. “Fall conferences are difficult for spring-delivery books to attend.”
The Cedar Post placed seventh in the nation for the December 2009 edition in the eight-page-and-under division, something Prandato attributes to the perseverance of a group of young writers.
“We had a very young and inexperienced staff this year, so the fact that we were able to learn so fast shows that they really have a talent,” said Prandato.
Merwin said they may compete next year in the 10-page-and-over category, but adds that will remain to be seen. She does have a goal, however, and she intends to achieve it through a variety of ways.
“Hopefully we will get in the top three next year,” she said.
One of the changes she will implement as editor is to make the paper more visually attractive to high school students.
“Instead of writing longer stories, we will break it up with color fact boxes and photos,” said Merwin, who adds that the editorial staff will also take strong positions on issues. “Hopefully we’ll get more letters to the editor.”
One prestigious award was received by Sandpoint junior Connor Griesemer who placed second in an unrelated photo contest through the Edward R. Murrow College of Journalism at Washington State University.
“The (photo) contest was open to high schools in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska and they received over a hundred entries,” said Prandato.
Something unique about the Cedar Post is that it is a student-run newspaper. While they do have an adviser, William Love, the administration does not dictate to the students what should and should not be printed.
“But at the same time we do recognize that we are a high school paper and not everything is appropriate for freshmen or the seventh-graders who may be reading it,” said Merwin, who hopes that students who read the paper will be inspired to write.
“You might not use it in calculus, but writing is something you’ll always need,” she said. “Students may not want to write a 10-page English paper, but if you tell them they can write a no-nonsense story, they usually like it.”
But don’t think the Cedar Post will be the last place you will get the chance to read Merwin’s articles.
“I want to go into political journalism,” she said. “My dream job is to write a political column for the New York Times.”
Stay tuned. My bet is that she will do just that.
Other awards won by Sandpoint High School students
Blaine Shultz, honorable mention in yearbook copy/caption: sports; Barry Wilson, honorable mention in literary magazine: poetry; Jennifer Prandato, honorable mention in newspaper layout; Evan Metz, excellence in editorial cartooning; Amanda Hayes, honorable mention in news writing; Graham Cole, honorable mention in feature writing; Jessie Webster Merwin, excellence in editorial writing; Eddie Ogle, excellence in sports writing; Dylan Vogel, excellence in yearbook student life photography (one of his winning photos is shown on the front page of the JEA website); Kendall Stratton, honorable mention in computer design: photoshop art.
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