The Vision Staff Attends Mississippi Scholastic Press Association Conference
By Mariat Thankachan
The Vision newspaper staff received the valuable opportunity to attend the annual Mississippi Scholastic Press Association Conference (MSPAC) on March 27. Hosted by the University of Mississippi, the conference featured numerous seminars to encourage high school students to continue their work with journalism and search for new ways to improve their writing and photography skills.
Thomas Richardson is The Vision’s adviser, and he has accompanied the students to the event for two years.
“MSPA does a great job of providing such a wide variety of workshops that any student can find something that interests them and is relevant to what we do every week. From writing better leads to taking better photos to managing social media accounts engagingly and ethically, there is a workshop for everything. I also think that high school journalism groups, including ours, often get caught up in getting the paper out every week at the expense of stepping back to think about what we're doing in the big picture. There were great discussions at the conference, too, about what it really means to be a journalist in this modern context,” Richardson stated.
The three hour-long workshops, taught by university professors and professionals in the field, featured topics from “How to Spot Fake News” to “Smartphone Photography.” The wide variety of options served to attract the interest of newspaper, broadcast, social media and yearbook students alike. The informative sessions also allowed The Vision staff to interact with fellow journalists across the state.
Juniors on the staff especially enjoyed their insightful first experience representing The Vision at the conference, every member participating in various workshops.
Staff writer Victoria Gong said, “I especially loved the level closeness and approachability even large seminars like the one that the reporter for the Starkville Pride Parade gave. The virtual reality simulation was really unique. I got to be a flying firefighter; I think that was my favorite part.”
An awards ceremony and keynote address was held in the afternoon. With a message of how listening is the path to journalistic success, the keynote address was delivered by Jesse J. Holland, author of the companion novel to “Black Panther.” Holland discussed his childhood growing up in Holly Springs and recalled his past memories of traveling down the road of written stories and reports.
Run similar to the Oscars, MSPA’s “Best of Mississippi” awards recognizes five finalists and one winner for each category, with hundreds of entries overall. This year, The Vision had individuals recognized for specific pieces published within the last year but were also recognized in two categories as a whole staff.
Keely Brewer (x2)—Sports Photo, News Photo
Hayden Stokley—Opinion Piece
Victoria Gong (x2)—Opinion Piece, Sports Story
Timothy Lewis—Sports Story
Rebecca Chen (class of ‘17)—Editorial Cartoon
Dev Jaiswal—News Story
The Vision Staff:
Social Media Presence
“We had almost the same number of nominations we had last year, though in different categories, which tells me two things: We are growing in our skills, contending in categories (like sports) that I wouldn't have expected. On the other hand, it tells me that we have some work to do to make a big push for some of the top awards. It's really hard to compete with some of the newspapers that meet much more regularly than MSMS students are able to do, and with groups that put out a regular print edition. There are some really stellar programs out there--Oxford, Oak Grove, Jackson Prep, etc.--that have an established history, too. I am really proud of what we publish week in and week out, particularly when our students are involved in so many other activities, but I hope that hearing the other schools names over and over again sparks a little fire in some of the juniors,” Richardson acknowledged.
Richardson realizes the extent of talent on the staff currently.
“I tend to think that what separates MSMS students from the crowd is a desire to improve in everything they do. To do that in journalism, we'll need dedication. As I said before, I think that sometimes we get so caught up in getting articles out every week that I don't think we always have a big-picture goal,”
He continued, “I'm hoping that some current juniors will stick with it next year, and we can go into the year with clear goals and organization structures in mind--that they will be dedicated to improving The Vision in every way possible. For example, I hope we get to the point (like in newsrooms I've been a part of) that it becomes a reward to actually have your article published, and that articles that don't meet a peer-reviewed standard won't make it in. In other words, I hope there's enough participation that students can set a standard of quality content each week. I also hope that we can do more long-form or depth pieces. I would like to see us try to dive into some of the more "professional" story opportunities out there--looking into legislative decisions that affect the school, and so on. More than anything, though, I want The Vision to become more of a hub of student information and participation in the discussions that are important to the student body. We've come a long way in getting our general readership up--thanks to alumni groups and the school's PR department--but I want students to be invested in it. It's their paper, after all. All that said, I cannot say enough how talented some of the juniors are and how much they've already contributed. The future can be really, really bright for the paper.”
Compiling notes and lessons learned from the conference, the staff plans to develop a new manner of improving their weekly publication. Their next most important project is the upcoming annual graduation print edition. This special edition poses the true test of commitment, an involved process that requires all hands on deck.