Talon Earns Top Awards at National JEA/NSPA Philadelphia Convention

Sloan Dial

The streets of Philadelphia are notorious for attitudes, crime, and cheesesteaks, The Talon News staff added their own spin on Philadelphia Stories this past weekend as 9 students and 2 advisors traveled to The City of Brotherly Love to compete and learn more about their craft.

The staff toured Philadelphia on Nov. 11, with their first stop at Pat’s or Geno’s Steaks. While at the restaurant, CBS Sunday Morning News Crew interview several staffers about their experience eating the famous cheesesteaks. (©The Talon News | Ashley Henderson)

“The cheesesteak was pretty good, but my ‘Rocky’ moment, running (falling) up the steps of the National Art Museum will forever be etched in both my mind and my knees,” Journalism Advisor Stacy Short said. “However, what is most important for me is watching these students hone their craft and get out in the city to produce something that has meaning and impact. You can win medals and trophies all day long, but at the end of the day, it’s the work you do, the work you put into a team, and a program that really matters, and these kids stepped up to the challenge and created some amazing products while they were in Philly.”

Journalism Advisor Mike Birnbaum, who grew up in Bucks County, PA, took over the planning role for this year’s trip and acted as the main tour guide for the trip.

“Philadelphia will always hold a special place in my heart because it’s my home city, but what I love most about the city is the underdog spirit it has,” Birnbaum said. “People associate Rocky with Philadelphia and the premise behind Rocky actually holds true to the people of the city. We’re not expected to win, we’re not expected to amount to much, but we persevere, we take the hits, and we come back for more. We never give up.”

Before the conference began, the staff toured the city, which included tours at Eastern State Penitentiary, Independence Hall, and the Liberty Bell museums.

“My favorite memory from touring the city was running up the Rocky steps with everyone,” EIC Ashley Henderson said. “It was such a fun moment where we were all laughing and just enjoying our time there. I even called my dad once I made it to the top because he’s the reason I’ve seen all of the Rocky movies, so it was just a cool moment to share, and the view was really pretty too. Also, in general, I just loved looking around the city and really taking in the fall environment and Philadelphia culture.”

Henderson believes that it’s important to travel and compete face-to-face for experience in order to become a better journalist.

“You get to see and work in a different environment instead of your bubble at home,” Henderson said. “Also, you get to meet advisors and student journalists from across the country to learn from each other and build connections.”

Those attending face-to-face instruction were offered a Pacemaker Master Class in one of several tracks to enhance their street creds and work with teams across the nation to compile multi-media packages that focused on technique, style, skill, and the Philadelphia life.

“I think building connections are the best part,” Henderson said. “I also think it helps you grow closer to your own advisors and other staff members. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience every time, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to go.”

Henderson takes her job seriously as an editor and knows that continuing to compete is important for the entire staff.  She is looking forward to the next convention and contest because she wants to gain more experience and knows the value of building a portfolio for college and career.

The Talon News staffers, Ashley Henderson, Nicholas West, Sam Mykel and Brenna Walters showcase the first place in National Broadcast award along with several other superior awards from the contest on Nov. 13, 2021. (©The Talon News | Stacy Short)

“National competitions are a big deal and everyone is very eager to go to the next one to not only compete but to travel into another environment,” she said. “These are some of the best memories we have from high school and just in life, so we want to continue making memories while also building upon our successes. I feel more connected to the rest of our team through these trips, and I believe I’ve learn a lot from all of the classes or competitions I have attended so far.”

NSPA awarded 4th place Best of Show for The Talon’s website, which is overseen by Director and EIC, Ashley Henderson and Director of Sports and Live Stream, Sam Mykel, both of whom also won 1st place in their “Streets of Philadelphia” multimedia package entitled “Cheesesteak Connection“.

For Mykel, going on trips is not something he gets to do often, Philly being the furthest he has ever traveled, and “taking in the big city was a crazy new experience” for him.

“Getting to walk around freely with my friends was a great experience,” he said. “Competing in person has so much more value rather than online because you are able to see the competition right in front of you and it just makes things more fun and exciting.”

Mykel believes that the experiences of meeting new people at these conventions can’t be replaced anywhere else.

“The things learned and [completed] while in my classes couldn’t be taught anywhere else aside from such a big venue,” Mykel said. “The takeaways can’t really be taught in class so overall, everyone had a great time [with] a once-in-a-lifetime trip [to] learn things that can’t be taught anywhere else. It builds us a better brand, teaches us new skills, and creates priceless memories with people we share a passion with.”

Nick West’s individual portfolio of BMX riders earned a superior rating in the NSPA Pacemaker Master Class.  “Frank Griffan hops high into the sky at Paine’s Park. Griffan has been riding BMX for seven years. ‘Its just something I like to do to clear my thoughts,” Griffan said. (©The Talon News | Nicholas West)

In the area of photography, Director Nicholas West also had 3 photos in the National Photo of the year, winning honorable mention and 2nd place for sports action photos and 3rd place in Environmental portrait. West takes his inspiration for his photography from his surroundings, especially from museums.  While in Philly, he was able to tour several museums with the group.

“My favorite memories from touring the city was the Philadelphia museum of art,” West said. “They have an amazing work in there that inspires me to make something better.”

West also won individual best for his visual storytelling photos, titled “BMX Strangers in Philadelphia,” and worked with a team on a project that also earned a superior ranking in the Team Visual Storytelling in the Philadelphia Stories Pacemaker Master Class “Best of Philadelphia” contest.

“Traveling face to face is an important part of these conventions because it allows students to meet and connect with other people who all have a similar passion for journalism,” he said. “The most important thing to come out of these competitions is the experience. These contests and conversations help you learn new things that apply to your career. Being in a city environment gives people an opportunity to experience a taste of what a career in journalism might be like.”

West says he really looks forward to attending other conventions because it helps him gain more experience for journalism and a career.

“We did very well in Philly, but there is still room for improvement,” he said. “If we put in more work to update and keep our website fresh, photographers take more photos, and writers write more articles, then the only way we can do at the next competition is better.”

“Girl in Blue” wins a superior ranking in JEA’s National Convention in Philadelphia, Nov. 13, 2021. (©The Talon News | Josh Fritz)

This year, JEA allowed any staff member to enter, even if they were not in attendance at the national convention, which has been a requirement in all years past. Winners in these contests included an Honorable Mention in review writing by junior Brenna Walters, an Honorable Mention in Advertising Design by Angela Castor, and an Excellent in sports photography by Alex Daggett.

“Winning at the national level made me feel like I could actually get somewhere someday with what I do in journalism, and it motivated me to actually do more work,” junior Brenna Walters said.  “It really showed me that what I do has a purpose.  The atmosphere of the city was so different than Argyle, and being able to see the big city versus our small town was pretty cool.”

Walters, a first-time attendee, said she valued the time spent networking with other like-minded students from across the country.

“We are not caught in a bubble of our own progress when we get out and work with others,” she said. “Going to these conventions allows us to see how our staff dynamic compares to other students across the country. We get to meet other kids interested in the same things, which allows us to network and make connections that show us other perspectives and views. This keeps us from being complacent and stagnant in our own progress and production.”

Senior Josh Fritz earned the top ranking of Superior in portrait photo, and first place was awarded for the Talon’s YouTube/TheTalonNews as best Broadcast News program, which is overseen by senior and Director Sloan Dial. Dial also earned an Excellent in Documentary Video Story for her film “Going Live”, which also earned a runner-up state champion last spring. Birnbaum believes that traveling to conventions like this one “is an invaluable experience for students, no matter what the discipline.”

“[The never-give-up attitude] is an undying spirit that unites all Philadelphians,” Birnbaum said. “This is why I was so happy that the national convention was held here this fall. It was a chance to showcase the never say die attitude and spirit of my home city.”