JEA announces its 2020 National High School Journalist of the Year

JEA announces its 2020 National High School Journalist of the Year

Emily Hood, JEA’s 2020 National High School Journalist of the Year, takes photos in New Town St. Charles for Hood has been the executive producer of FHNtodayTV at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Missouri, for two years. Aaron Manfull, MJE, is her adviser. Photo by Alyssa Barber.

Over the past year, hundreds of high school journalists throughout the country worked hours to complete their portfolios for state Journalist of the Year contests, and 32 state winners entered the national competition. The Journalism Education Association also had its first-ever entry in the international division from Taiwan.

Due to the cancellation of the JEA/NSPA Spring National High School Journalism Convention, the national winner and six runners-up were recognized April 18 on JEA’s Facebook Live platform.

When the final results were announced, Emily Hood of Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Missouri, was named the 2020 National High School Journalist of the Year. Hood will receive a $3,000 Sister Rita Jeanne Abicht Scholarship as part of her recognition from JEA.

Six other state winners were named national runners-up. Each will receive an $850 Sister Rita Jeanne Scholarship. They are as follows:

  • Claire Guo, Conestoga High School, Berwyn, Pennsylvania (Susan Gregory, MJE and Cyndi Crothers-Hyatt co-advisers).
  • Eric Fang, The Harker School, San Jose, California (Ellen Austin, MJE, adviser).
  • Julie Heng, Huron High School, Ann Arbor, Michigan (Sara-Beth Badalamente, CJE, adviser).
  • Ben Henschel, Shawnee Mission East High School, Prairie Village, Kansas (C. Dow Tate, adviser).
  • Anna Mullins, Lakota East High School, West Chester, Ohio (Dean Hume, adviser).
  • Marta Hill, St. Louis Park (Minnesota) High School (Lori Keekley, MJE, adviser).

Named in honor of JEA’s longtime treasurer, the late Sister Rita Jeanne Abicht, FSPA, the scholarships recognize some of the top high school journalists in the country. Portfolios are judged in the month leading up to the JEA/NSPA spring national convention, and scholarships are given in honor of their work on scholastic media.

The national applications were submitted digitally. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 32-member scholarship committee judged each portfolio and judges were impressed with the depth of experience contained in the state-winning entries.

About the winner

Emily Hood

Emily Hood has created a legacy over four years in the FHNtodayTV broadcast program. After finding purpose through storytelling as a freshman, Hood set a goal of creating and anchoring a news show geared toward teens — one with a format similar to the type of content this demographic consumes on a daily basis. Her weekly show has maintained a consistent publishing schedule for three years and has been the catalyst for her peers to create similar shows.

While Hood’s show continues to gain followers throughout the community, according to her adviser, Aaron Manful, MJE, she also played a pivotal role in her school’s broadcast program’s transformation in October 2018.

 “We worked to move the broadcast program from one with a traditional broadcast focus to one that’s more in line with current video journalism realities, with everything ranging from illustrated video stories and traditional feature stories to story promotions and social media motion graphics,” Manfull said. “It’s been a game changer for the broadcast program at FHN and wouldn’t have been possible without Emily’s approval and ideas to make it work.”

Hood served as an editor her sophomore year and was promoted to the top video editor spot of executive producer as a junior. She retained the lead role as a senior. According to Manfull, she has evolved into a great leader the past three years, planning and sharing lessons with the staffers, working to find ways to keep them engaged and motivated, and building some great camaraderie among staff members.

“Emily clearly has the respect of her team and works hard to ensure everyone has a voice in the publications,” said judge Dennis Leizear, CJE and adviser at Padua Academy, Willmington, Delaware. “She sees journalism as a means to tell interesting stories about people who may be overlooked. This is one of the most impressive candidates I’ve judged in the competition.”

Hood said in her self-analytical essay that she challenged herself to create a unique news package that combined every skill she learned throughout her time in scholastic journalism. She stumbled upon the idea of collateral consequences of incarceration after interviewing staff at a local charity focused on helping those in poverty or coming out of prison become economically independent.

“After a quick online search, I was shocked to find out about all the restrictions placed on those with felonies that made it extremely difficult to transition back into society,” Hood wrote in her essay. “I knew this was the story I was meant to cover, and I spent the next 10 months working on my multimedia piece, ‘Life After.’”

Judge Kari Koshiol, adviser at Benilde-St Margaret’s School, St. Louis Park, Minnesota, said Hood understands the value of journalism in her life and in the life of those consuming media.

“Tackling stories that have required months of work and creating new news programming, Emily is an impressive reporter both in text and in video,” Koshiol said. “Perhaps most impressive, she is not afraid to break with tradition in order to better communicate with those for whom she is doing the reporting. Emily tells the stories that matter to her community.”

Runners-up honored                                   

Claire Guo

Claire Guo of Pennsylvania joined her school’s newspaper as a freshman, in her words, “eager to root out corruption and champion the truth.” Since then, she has learned how journalism can bring communities closer together and connect individuals.

“I always tell my students that journalism is two-thirds reporting and one-third writing,” said judge Brenda Field, MJE and adviser at Glenbrook South High School, Glenview, Illinois. “If the reporting isn’t there, the story falls apart. Claire Guo is obviously a reporter who understands this truth. Her portfolio consistently demonstrated thorough background research and exceptional interviewing skills. The resulting stories are vibrant, packed with information and a joy to read. Design is also a strength. Claire clearly understands the importance of telling stories both verbally and visually.”

Guo is responsible for leading a staff of more than 30 students as editor-in-chief. According to adviser Susan Gregory, MJE, she teaches ethics and communication law to her staff as easily as she edits copy, writes opinion pieces and lays out pages. This year, she paired the rookie reporters with veteran mentors — she doesn’t forget her early days when she was trying to figure it all out.

“It appears that Claire is a well-respected leader of her staff,”  said judge Alicia Merrifield, CJE and adviser at The Village School, Houston. “She has grown over the time that she has been on staff, and it seems only natural that she is where she is with The Spoke (newspaper).  She didn’t come in and completely rework the staff, but she did make changes based on what she saw was needed. Her ability to grow their following through social media is smart, but what I am really impressed with is her ‘focus groups’ using classroom teachers and students to push out critiques for them to grow.”

Eric Fang

Eric Fang of California has found himself involved in local politics and demonstrates an interest as both as a journalist but also as a citizen and voter.

His adviser Ellen Austin, MJE, shared in her recommendation that Fang recently told her: “A lot of our work has real-world impacts in our community and our society. People really read and are impacted and better informed because of what we do. These letters that we type into a document can have a transformative impact on people and that motivates me more.”

Fang’s depth was evident in his portfolio and the judges were impressed.

“It is obvious this journalist has a passion for storytelling, team building and excellence, while paying attention to law and ethics, media literacy and training new staffers,” said judge Renee Burke, MJE and JEA’s Florida state director. “He has grown as a person, writer, photographer and leader over his four years. What an evolution.”

While Fang gives voice to the voiceless through his writing, he also works at learning skills that don’t come naturally to him. In his essay, he speaks of his intrinsic desire to keep learning through workshops, seminars, his peers, countless YouTube tutorials and dozens of design drafts. Trial by fire does not discourage this runner-up.

“This candidate has a firm understanding of the importance of a free press for an electorate and democracy,” said judge Leah Waters, CJE and adviser at Heritage High School, Frisco, Texas. “It’s inspiring to see young people like this candidate embrace narrative storytelling, practice accountability reporting and grow as a newsroom leader. He has hustle and heart, two necessary ingredients for any journalist wanting to make a career of storytelling.”

Julie Heng

Julie Heng of Michigan is called a gem by her adviser, a treasure by a judge, and one of outstanding character by her predecessors. She even had nationally renowned workshop instructor, Bobby Hawthorne, speaking in superlatives.

“She was in my class a couple of summers ago,” Hawthorne said. “And even as a sophomore, she was without question the star: Best writer. Most diligent reporter. Most dependable. Most responsible. More determined. Most voracious.”

Heng was described by adviser Sara-Beth Badalamente, CJE, as a true journalist. She witnessed her fact-finding as she understood the difference between good and great when it comes to reporting and designing.

“Two years ago, Julie was writing an article on student walkouts and youth activism and wanted to interview someone who knew about First Amendment rights firsthand,” Badalamente said. “So she called a Tinker — or four. I sat and watched in awe as she interviewed Paul Tinker for over an hour discussing what happened before and after the major Tinker Supreme Court case. And she followed up with an interview with John, and Hope, and Mary Beth. This is the type of reporting Julie always does. This is why Julie is the first and last person in the newspaper room.”

Former Huron Emery newspaper leaders  from 2017-2019 — Writing and Reporting Opinion Editor Jack Harrison and Editor-in-Chief Kara Kozma — endorsed Heng in a joint letter:

“Julie did not bring The Emery success just because of her journalism capabilities. She did because of her leadership,” they wrote. “Whenever something needed to be done, Julie was on it. Staying late into the night on a Friday night to meet the deadline, Julie was there in an empty classroom. When funding issues prevented publishing, Julie initiated a Barnes and Noble fundraiser the next weekend. Requesting water quality levels the district would not provide, Julie got it from the state. When newsroom productivity was low, Julie implemented a ‘specialization’ plan, expanding the Emery’s online and social media platforms and reaching out to staffers one-on-one.”

Ben Henschel

Ben Henschel of Kansas keeps his newspaper staff application on his desk to remind him each day that his experience as a student journalist has filled an emptiness he once had. He made a last-ditch decision on a mid-December day his sophomore year to pick up that little white brochure.

“When I was accepted as a staff writer, I threw myself in full-bore — broadcasting and anchoring basketball and football, learning website code, taking point on political update stories,” Henschel wrote in his essay. “I worked beyond a staff writer’s job description, and quickly learned that life’s more fun and more meaningful when I’m busy. Student journalism allowed me to trade that junk food and YouTube for far-reaching work from all walks of high school.”

Since then, Henschel has acquired a never-ending list of accomplishments for the sake of storytelling — what he now calls a known staple of his life.

“The scope and depth of his reporting is impressive,” said Ava Butzu, judge and adviser at Grand Blanc (Michigan) High School. “From implications of TikTok, to national news filtered through local lives of a government shutdown, to district news of teacher negotiations and special education changes, to topics of particular interest to teens — he dives deep into his investigations and writes cleanly and compellingly about them. He is in his element in live sportscasting and his video storytelling also feels ‘natural,’ which is a talent to do with a script.”

According to adviser C. Dow Tate, Henschel’s leadership was critical in re-establishing or solidifying both the print and online publications while also standing up against district administrators to ensure they don’t violate state laws and reduce student press rights. Last summer, when the school district announced its first hearings on a rewrite of the district school publication policies, Henschel read them and realized that they would erode student press rights and would be in clear violation of the Kansas Student Publications Act.

“Ben rallied former students, board members and Student Press Law Center officials then went in front of the school board to speak up against the changes,” Tate wrote. “After meeting with the district journalism teachers and Student Press Law Center officials, the district backed off the changes to lawful parameters rather than those that would have opened the door to irrational censorship.”

Anna Mullins

Anna Mullins of Ohio learned that being an editor is not about bossing her reporters around. She learned that not everyone thinks like her, and consequently, she adapted her leadership style to meet her staff members where they are. Mullins along with her co-editors-in-chief created a summer boot camp for their young staff to work on coaching and editing.

“The hardest thing to learn was that not everyone is like me,” Mullins wrote in her essay about the boot camp. “The majority of our staff is also new to the journalism program so it was important to apply the lesson that not everyone has the same strengths, weaknesses and dedication as I do. Once I learned this, though, it helped me to find people stories and roles that best fit them. I also found myself becoming much more tolerant and understanding as I realized that not everyone could prioritize Spark (newsmagazine) the way I do, and I learned to work around their schedules becoming a better team player.”

According to adviser Dean Hume, Mullins is willing to cover hard-hitting topics such as the localized impact of human trafficking. She was willing to interview a number of vapers and an FBI agent, and tell the story of vaping and its impact on the student body. She has a desire to get the story right, interviewing more sources than necessary, paying close attention to the details.

“Mullins’s dedication to sourcing interviewees is exciting and encouraging — it shows just what the future of journalism holds: a quest for truth and a search for the whole story,” said judge Gaby Doyle, CJE and adviser at Beverly Hills (California) High School. “Her writing reflects that of a much higher caliber than that of most high school student journalists. I look forward to using her work as samples for my J1 class.”

Marta Hill

Marta Hill of Minnesota visited the Newseum for her first and last time in Washington, D.C., last fall, and it stirred something inside of her that elevated her passion to a future career.

“Marta is passionate about promoting the importance of student voices,” adviser Lori Keekley, MJE, said. “She routinely works to make sure all students are comfortable on staff and are heard. We have often talked about how to bring on more students into the class with conservative viewpoints since almost all of our staffers are liberal. She works to ensure students of color feel comfortable in our predominantly white class while continuing to run the newspaper and website.”

She is described by her English teacher as curious and open-minded in the pursuit of knowledge. Her assistant principal says their interviews are friendly and enjoyable, even when their topics are not.

“Marta Hill started with the Echo (print and online paper) as a sophomore, when she reflects that talking to administrators or community members was intimidating,” said Assistant Principal Jessica Busse. “The roles have reversed through time. Throughout this year, Marta arrives at interviews prepared and intentional with question themes. The administration’s time is valued by combining topics into a single interview and the relationship that Marta has created with us provides comfort and openness.”

Hill wrote stories ranging from how attendance can impact athletes’ playing time, to discipline approaches, incorrect gun threats, to construction and most recently the resignation of her school’s principal.

“The overall portfolio was very impressive, well designed and the presentation nicely done,” said judge Lisa VanEtta, adviser at Duchesne Academy, Houston. “I could tell from Marta’s essay and her explanations for the different categories, she has a passion for journalism and is very good at it. I wish her a bright future in a journalism career and look forward to seeing her byline or face on a national news station.”

State winners

The full list of state winners entered in the national competition is as follows:

  • ALABAMA: Saylor Cuzzort, Sparkman High School, Harvest (Erin Coggins, MJE, adviser)
  • ARKANSAS: Madelyn Stout, Har-Ber High School, Springdale (Karla Sprague, CJE, adviser)
  • CALIFORNIA: Eric Fang, The Harker School, San Jose (Ellen Austin, MJE, adviser)
  • COLORADO: Jivan West, Fairview High School, Boulder (Claire-Maria Broaddus, adviser)
  • FLORIDA: Marin Fehl, Hillsborough High School, Tampa (Joe Humphrey, MJE, adviser)
  • GEORGIA: Elena Gilbertson Hall, Clarke Central High School, Athens (David Ragsdale, CJE, adviser)
  • HAWAII: Joby Lum, Kamehameha Schools, Honolulu (Lionel Barona, adviser)
  • ILLINOIS: Ryan Kupperman, Prospect High School, Mount Prospect (Jason Block, CJE, adviser)
  • INDIANA: Nathan Miller, Avon High School,Avon (Bill Caulton, adviser)
  • IOWA: Natalie Dunlap, Iowa City West High School, Iowa City (Sara Whittaker, CJE, adviser)
  • KANSAS: Ben Henschel, Shawnee Mission East High School, Prairie Village (Dow Tate, adviser)
  • KENTUCKY: Katie Huffman, Bullitt East High School, Mount Washington (Larry E. Steinmetz, CJE, adviser)
  • MARYLAND: Amanda Liu, Montgomery Blair High School, Silver Spring (Jeremy Stelzner, adviser)
  • MASSACHUSETTS: Dina Zeldin, Newton South High School, Newton Center (Ashley Chapman, adviser)
  • MICHIGAN: Julie Heng, Huron High School, Ann Arbor (Sara-Beth Badalamente, CJE, adviser)
  • MINNESOTA: Marta Hill, St. Louis Park High School, St. Louis Park (Lori Keekley, MJE, adviser)
  • MISSISSIPPI: Gina Nguyen, Mississippi School for Math and Science, Columbus (Thomas Richardson, adviser)
  • MISSOURI: Emily Hood, Francis Howell North High School, St. Charles (Aaron Manfull, MJE, adviser)
  • MONTANA: Grace Carr, C.M. Russell High School, Great Falls (Beth Britton, CJE, adviser)
  • NEBRASKA: LeAnne Bugay, Bellevue West High School, Bellevue (Julie Rowse, adviser)
  • NEVADA: Maggie Arden, Reno High School, Reno (Christy Briggs, CJE, adviser)
  • NEW MEXICO: Sarah Rodriguez, Centennial High School, Las Cruces (Marissa Prentice, adviser)
  • NORTH CAROLINA: Elise Trexler, West Henderson High School, Hendersonville (Jason Livingston, adviser)
  • OHIO: Anna Mullins, Lakota East High School, Liberty Township (Dean Hume, adviser)
  • OREGON: Kyle Pinnell, Southridge High School, Beaverton (Eric Ballas, adviser)
  • PENNSYLVANIA: Claire Guo, Conestoga High School, Berwyn (Susan Gregory, MJE, and Cyndi Crothers-Hyatt, CJE, adviser)
  • RHODE ISLAND: Olivia Wodogaza, Lincoln High School, Lincoln (Doreen A. Picozzi, MJE, adviser)
  • TAIWAN: Charlotte Lee, Taipei American School, Taipei (Lindsey Kundel, adviser)
  • TENNESSEE: LC Essary, Harpeth Hall School, Nashville (Adam Wilsman, adviser)
  • TEXAS: Sam Ahmed, St. Mark’s School of Texas, Dallas (Ray Westbrook, adviser)
  • VIRGINIA: Grace Mak, Thomas Jefferson High School, Alexandria (Erinn Harris, MJE, adviser)
  • WASHINGTON: Nolan Degarlais, Mountlake Terrace High School, Mountlake Terrace (Vincent DeMiero, adviser)
  • WYOMING: Wyatt Burichka, Cody High School, Cody (Erika Quick, CJE, adviser)

The Journalism Education is a national organization of scholastic journalism teachers and school media advisers. Its headquarters is at the A.Q. Miller School of Journalism and Mass Communications at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas. For more information about the JEA or its National High School Journalist of the Year program, please go to

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