By Staff Writers Amy Chen & Ella Chen
For the second year in a row, the Smoke Signal was presented the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) Gold Medalist Award for its publications in the 2015-16 school year. This marks the fifth Gold Medalist Award given to the newspaper in its history.
The CSPA, owned and operated by Columbia University since its establishment in 1925, has been working with student editors and advisers from international and US school and college publications to set standards in the CSPA Fundamentals. The CSPA also annually evaluates and recognizes exemplary performance among its members through its scorebooks, known as Critiques. Publications are mailed to faculty advisers of student publications throughout the US and Canada. Using instructions and CSPA judging standards, a single judge evaluates each publication, providing a numerical score and constructive criticism. Smoke Signal Adviser and Journalism Teacher Sandra Cohen said, “One of the things that membership gives us is that full in-depth look into the product. Just being part of the organization is worth it to have access to that kind of critical eye.” The Smoke Signal received a total score of 807 out of the 1000 possible points, placing it into the Gold Medalist category for publications scoring over 800 points. The Smoke Signal excelled in the Essentials category, which assesses coverage and reader-friendliness. The newspaper scored 181 out of the 200 points possible. Some of the standards the judge assessed include the newspaper’s coverage of clubs and organizations, thoroughness of researched content, and neutrality of non-opinion articles. The judge suggested that the Smoke Signal focus more on standardizing fonts and formatting throughout the paper. In his summary comments, the judge said, “The staff presents an array of newsworthy topics of interest and importance, often with special graphics that enhance the impact of the subject matter. Opinion sections are lively, and coverage of the student life is especially impressive.”
As a student-run organization, the Smoke Signal centers its content around the MSJ community. In each monthly cycle, journalists conduct interviews with members of MSJ organizations to collect information about the activities happening on campus. The Smoke Signal is run like a business, with editors choosing stories and making page layouts, managers overseeing initiatives and daily activities, and staff writers contacting sources to write articles. Because it does not receive any outside funding, the Smoke Signal raises funds through advertising with local businesses. 2015-16 Editor-in-Chief Alice Cheng said, “Through my three years on the Smoke Signal, I’ve seen how relevant and sometimes brave our coverage is, which has been possible due to a thoughtful and diversely-talented staff.”
Over the years, the Smoke Signal has improved its websites and introduced various in-print and online series to engage the student body. The Humans of MSJ blog is widely-viewed, and the ongoing Diehard Tryhards series in the Feature section challenges journalists to compete in different tasks for the entertainment of the Smoke Signal’s readers. In the 2015-16 school year, the three-month Mental Health Coverage spread raised awareness to combat mental health stigmas at MSJ. The Smoke Signal’s team of 46 journalists takes pride in the newspaper’s work, and being recognized for the effort put into each publication is an honor. Principal Zack Larsen said, “Congratulations to the Smoke Signal. The level of comprehensive, wide-ranging, and in-depth coverage provided by the reporters and supported by the adviser, Mrs. Cohen, has helped the Smoke Signal earn the Gold Medalist Award. I am incredibly proud of this recognition but definitely not surprised.”
Photo Courtesy Costanoan Yearbook