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 Feature Story
Iowa High School Press Association Convention: "More Than Words"


"I recommend that you travel as much as you can to better understand issues," advised Danny Wilcox Frazier (M.A. 2004, B.A. 1993).

Photography. Ethics. Blogging. Censorship. True to its theme of “More Than Words,” this year’s conference of the Iowa High School Press Association drew 380 young journalists and their advisers to the Iowa Memorial Union on The University of Iowa campus on October 25, 2007. Workshop sessions helped inspire the advisers and journalists of tomorrow to become their best.

Keynote speaker and Iowa native Danny Wilcox Frazier (M.A. 2004, B.A. 1993) described his journey at the University of Iowa from track to art to journalism and his work today as a photojournalist working on assignment for TIME, Life, Newsweek and other major publications.

“I wanted to tell stories that otherwise would not be heard,” he told the audience. The lights dimmed and a large projection screen in front of the ballroom displayed images of windy landscapes, war-torn buildings, a desert carnival, and blurred action shots of farm workers. He also shared photos of back-stage moments showing presidential candidates in private reflection before stepping onstage to speak to crowds of Iowans. In his current assignment for TIME, Frazier will show readers a side of Iowa caucuses that America doesn’t usually see in other media outlets.

During his presentation, Frazier also referred to the hottest topic buzzing at the conference—censorship.

The Friday prior, City High School administrators pulled copies of the student newspaper, The Little Hawk, after three altercations erupted in the hallways
Students attending the convention settle in for the keynote address in the Union Memorial. Many returned to the same ballroom to learn more about The Little Hawk controversy.
between students over a front page survey about student attitudes toward racism and sexual preferences; the debate centered on the 13 percent who held “generally unfavorable” views of black students.

Conference organizers knew about the controversy in time to invite The Little Hawk adviser Jeff Morris and executive editor and senior Adam Sullivan to present “Is Controversy Ever Bad? What is off limits?”

Approximately 160 students and advisers filled the charged auditorium while Morris and Sullivan provided copies of the censored newspaper and described what happened.

Morris reminded attendees of students’ free speech rights and the “Tinker Test” resulting from the groundbreaking Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1969. Although The Little Hawk was neither libelous nor obscene, the principal pulled the paper under what Morris called “the disruption clause” of the ruling because of the fights.

Timm Pilcher (B.S. 1994) leads a discussion with journalism teachers.

Although Sullivan maintained that the principal had violated students’ rights by pulling the paper, he paused. “I’ll admit I misread our readership and could have been more sensitive,” Sullivan said. He later explained that all he had wanted to do was generate discussion about prejudice so it could be addressed and that a student publication should serve as a voice for students.

Another popular session at the conference was a forum for high school journalism teachers led by Timm Pilcher (B.S. 1994). Many asked for help on how to get students to meet deadlines while others shared concerns about email interviews and the ethics of using photos from MySpace.com accounts.

Joleen (Walderbach) Dake (B.A. 1996) brought 23 students from Prairie High School with her to the conference. “We always get some new things that we can use when we come to this convention,” Dake said.

Another UI alumnus, Brian Ray (B.A. 2002) presented “Photos on the Move” to a standing-room only crowd. Clicking through his stunning photo slide-show, Ray briefly described how and where he obtained each shot and modestly answered students’ questions. Ray has worked as a photographer for The Gazette for nearly eight years and has presented a photography session at IHSPA for the past three.

Brian Ray (B.A. 2002) talks to students after his presentation on photojournalism. One of his photos is visible on the screen in the background.
“Students have different questions each year,” he said after his session. “There’s always so much more I could tell them, especially now with multimedia, but there’s not enough time” in the 40-minute sessions.

His job now includes creating a multimedia slideshow with sound clips of the weekly post-game interview with Iowa football coach Kirk Ferentz for GazetteOnline.com, a factor of convergence that UI journalism associate professor Don McLeese mentioned in his session, “Feature Writing with Flair.”

“Stories are packages with a multimedia component,” McLeese told the students. He mentioned podcasts, blogs and streaming video that “didn’t exist four years ago.”

Continuing on this theme of “More Than Words,” IHSPA also offered on-the-spot student competitions in writing, photography, editorial cartooning, and yearbook. Students could also sign up for tours of the UI radio station KRUI 89.7 FM and The Daily Iowan.

Schools submitted their student newspapers and yearbooks for professional “publication critiques” by Vanessa Shelton,
Allie Cahow, Hanna Mosley, Anna Schmidt and Mandy Lund from Benton Community High School take notes during a session at the day-long convention.
Executive Director of Quill and Scroll International and Betty Christian, adviser and teacher at Davenport North High School.

Jeremy Brown, a junior from Davenport, Iowa, came to the conference to attend sessions on sports writing. His team also submitted their student newspaper for review and “we got a lot of markups on our critique,” he said, but admitted that many of the comments were helpful.

“Writing is a process of rewriting,” McLeese told a roomful of students. “It is not going to fall together . . . . The best writers I know are the ones who [are] willing to do the extra work or time to make sure the work can be the best it can be.”  

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