By STEVEN NALLEY
For Bailey Brocato, quality writing isn’t about awards or acclaim.
The Mississippi Scholastic Press Association named Brocato, a senior at Starkville High School, the Mississippi High School Journalist of the Year and Mississippi Yearbook Editor of the Year. The first award allows Brocato to compete at the national level for a $5,000 scholarship.
Brocato said she was shocked and grateful for the recognition. She said she believes it will help her future pursuits, but throughout the year she did not have the MSPA awards on her mind.
“I work as hard as I can,” Brocato said. “I push my staff to work as hard as we can, because we’re not doing it for a grade; we’re not doing it for a teacher. We’re doing it because we love what we do, and we’re doing it because we want to be proud of what we’re putting out.”
Brocato’s awards are among 31 the SHS journalism program received at the MSPA convention in Oxford March 30, including 10 first-place awards.
R.J. Morgan, journalism adviser at SHS, won Newspaper Advisor of the Year; Merve Karan, news section editor of SHS’s Jacket Buzz, was named MSPA Newspaper Staff Member of the Year; and SHS principal Keith Fennell won MSPA administrator of the year for supporting the program.
Jacket Buzz sports editor Christine Mazzola won Best Sports Feature for a retrospective on the integration of the SHS football team, as well as second place in Individual Sports Writing.
Tyler Griffis placed second in Editorial Writing, Barrett Higginbotham and George Bennett placed third in the state in Sports Photography and Cartoons respectively, and Jacket Buzz editor Cullom McCormick received an honorable mention in Depth Reporting.
“To say I’m proud is an understatement,” Morgan said. “It’s been a joy to see these kids grow in both ability and maturity this year, and many thanks to (everyone) who offered suggestions or encouragement along the way. We will be producing one more edition in early May, but it will be mostly senior-oriented.”
McCormick said SHS’s journalism program has gotten better every year, improving from 23 awards received last year to 31 this year. Each successive staff benefits from the previous staff’s experimentation, he said, giving them better understandings of what does and does not work.
“One thing that’s really important that a lot of the writers love doing when they get feature stories ... is to capture more of the human side when we can and not just do a news story like we have to do a lot of the time,” McCormick said.
“I know one that’s really important to me; I did a story on Tim Read getting back from Afghanistan.
Our Black History paper was just filled with feature stories with human interest issues on the black history of Starkville, and all the writers just loved doing that.”
McCormick said the program owed a lot of success to staff like Karan, Mazzola and Brocato as well as Morgan’s journalism experience.
“He basically plays the administrator and mediator in the classroom,” McCormick said. “He genuinely loves his job, which we’re very grateful for. It really shows in his work because often times we end up staying here as late as 8 p.m. or later on deadline nights to put out the paper, and he stays with us every step of the way.”
Morgan said the SHS journalism program also won four awards for one of its newest creations: “My Morning Jacket,” a television news program developed this year.
“Rex Ames’s package on the JROTC program won fest feature segment in the state, and John Gavin Buffington’s tribute to retiring baseball coach Danny Carlisle placed second in sports,” Morgan said. “’My Morning Jacket’ also placed second in the state in video editing and third overall in general excellence.”
Buffington, editor of “My Morning Jacket,” said Morgan came up with the idea after seeing other schools around the state develop television news programs. The awards were a surprise, he said, and he could only attribute them to the strength of the students involved.
“They’re all really good,” Buffington said. “We have good anchors (and) good directors. Even though it was their first year, they knew exactly what they were doing.”