JEA honors Pennsylvania’s Denkovich as 2021 Aspiring Young Journalist

JEA honors Pennsylvania’s Denkovich as 2021 Aspiring Young Journalist

By Joe Humphrey, MJE, Journalist of the Year Coordinator

The Journalism Education Association names Christopher Denkovich as its 2021 Aspiring Young Journalist. Denkovich is editor-in-chief of the Bulldog Barker newspaper at Freedom Area Middle School in Freedom, Pennsylvania.

JEA also recognizes two runners-up: Nahshon Cooper of John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg, Florida, and Olivia Savage of Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas. 

The Aspiring Young Journalist Award honors students for excellence in these areas:

  • Skilled and creative use of media
  • Inquiring mind and investigative persistence
  • Courageous and responsible handling of issues
  • Variety of journalistic experiences
  • Sustained and commendable work with school media

Christopher Denkovich

Christopher Denkovich interviews Ryan Smith, principal of Freedom Area Middle School in Freedom, Pennsylvania. Denovich, editor in chief of the school’s Bulldog Barker newspaper, is the 2021 JEA Aspiring Young Journalist.

Denkovich’s adviser, Sara Miller, praised the eighth grader’s work under challenging circumstances this year.

“While I have to coerce many of his peers to participate in class online, I can always count on Christopher to participate every day,” she wrote in his recommendation letter. “He gives relevant insight to class discussions, helping to move the lesson forward. Christopher leads by example and has effectively taken over the staff discussion when I have asked him to, and his peers respond positively to his guidance.”

In an essay included in his application, Denkovich hailed student media as a powerful tool for learning about and using rights provided to citizens.

“Journalism can show students the power of their First Amendment rights,” he said. “To summarize, it is hard to portray in words the feeling of making a difference and benefiting yourself in the process by using your First Amendment rights, by taking on a leadership role and by reporting facts and sharing your opinions to the best of your ability.”

Contest judge David Ragsdale, CJE, commended Denkovich for “accomplishing a great deal in a short time” and “wearing many hats.”

“Christopher has been deeply invested in middle school journalism during the last three years,” said Ragsdale, adviser of Clarke Central High School in Athens, Georgia. “His understanding of the principles of teamwork, leadership and community reporting is apparent in his portfolio. He is to be commended on his work.”

Nahshon Cooper

Nahshon Cooper reacts while recording a hot sauce review video. The eighth grader at John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg, Florida plans a career in broadcast journalism.

Judges recognized finalist Nahshon Cooper for a portfolio rich in broadcast work, with both serious and light-hearted samples. 

“This was an impressive portfolio,” Christina Porcelli, an adviser at H.B. Plant High School in Tampa, said. “On-camera work is not easy, but you made it look that way. Your presence on screen was great. Your interviewing and editing work shine as well.”

Cooper’s school is a multimedia magnet in the heart of St. Petersburg, and he plans to continue preparing for his future career at the magnet high school nearby.

“I feel as a journalist I can expose things in society that are underrepresented and shed light on things that need to change for the better,” he wrote in his cover letter. “I can’t wait until the day I can be a professional journalist and truly be a part of the nationwide journalism community.”

Cooper was endorsed by adviser Andres Faza and Crystal L. Pruitt, coordinator of the Journeys in Journalism Program for Pinellas County Schools.

“Nahshon is very ambitious and is always looking for more stories to bring to the newscast,” Pruitt said. “He is also very conscious of deadlines and is consistent in submitting a quality product. Additionally, Nahshon is very creative and has a wonderful imagination when producing video projects.”

Olivia Savage

Olivia Savage photographs a sporting event for Ramay Junior High School in Fayetteville, Arkansas. She credits her yearbook experience for her interest in a photography career.

Finalist Olivia Savage stood out with her contributions to the yearbook.

Adviser Meredith Avise called Savage “the most versatile student journalist I have had the honor of teaching.”

“By day, she writes eloquent theme copies as well as suspenseful sport features, then by night captures award winning photographs,” Avise said.

She credits Savage for her work ethic during the rush to finish the 2020 yearbook in the early days of the COVID shutdown.

“It was a tremendous struggle to get in contact with students, but Olivia was front and center, ready to lend a helping hand,” Avise said. “She completed multiple spreads that other students left unfinished and if it weren’t for her quality work, our yearbook would not have been complete.”

Ragsdale said Savage’s “letters of recommendation, personal essay and resume reflect a distinguished journalism career throughout her middle school years.”

“She’s commended as being a ‘game-changer’,” he said. “The portfolio showcases a diversity of experiences and abilities as a content creator — from layout-design to reporting and writing.”

Like the other honorees, Savage plans to continue with journalism in high school. 

“This role has helped me grow tremendously and reach a different side of my own creativity that I hadn’t tapped into before,” she said. “During my time on the yearbook staff, I have learned to be more creative and found hobbies that I didn’t have before. When I’m older I would like to be a photographer.

“Without yearbook, I might never have realized my passion for journalism.”

Winners of this award will be recognized April 10 in a video presentation during the Spring JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention.

Founded in 1924, JEA supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, promoting professionalism, encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity. It is headquartered at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas.

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