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Juan Diego Catholic High journalism students making their mark in Utah Futures now

Oct 21, 2020 11:36AM ● By Julie Slama

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

For journalism teacher Joe Elliot, it was a sign indicating his journalism students are on the right path.

At the Utah Futures Awards contest, held virtually at the end of this past school year, Juan Diego Catholic High won seven awards, which will be motivation to continue to improve as well as celebrate as the school finished the best since Elliot became as an adviser three years ago.

The student journalists won best online newspaper for “The Speaking Eagle” as well as best illustration for “Stress: In-depth” by now graduate Grace McGowan-Jackson. The best headline writing award went to junior Olivia Thomas, with second place going to her classmate and senior Annie Harris, who is the quarterly magazine editor. Overall, “The Speaking Eagle” finished second in best staff headlines. The staff also received third in best video production and senior Emily Werner, who is this year’s yearbook editor-in-chief, earned third place for her photo of a classmate swimming butterfly. 

Overall, the journalism students finished third in the 4A-5A-6A classification in the competition that was sponsored by the Utah College Media Alliance in collaboration with the Utah Press Association.

“The whole staff and I, we got on a G Meet (Google Meet – online platform) and watched it together and had a lot of fun,” Elliott said. 

Since Elliott arrived at Juan Diego, the journalism program has undergone changes. While Elliott’s background is in Irish literature, he also has journalism knowledge and was able to transform the print newspaper to an online platform as well as introduce a quarterly print magazine and oversee the television production. He hopes to introduce a podcast in coming years.

The program, which involves about 100 students, begins with an introduction to journalism class.

“From the intro class, we find the kids who are the writers, the photographers, the layout kids, the video kids and point them in the direction that they need to go,” he said.

Upper-level journalism courses include a print media class that publishes the daily online “The Speaking Eagle” as well as publishes “99,” the quarterly 32-page high-quality magazine named after the year the school was founded; a yearbook class that produces the annual publication; and a television and video production class that produces “Speaking Eagle TV.”

Last spring, the staff was in the process of publishing their fourth magazine when the school went into soft closure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was published online.

“It’s built around a theme and a little more feature angle,” Elliott said. “The last one we did last year was ‘the future issue’ and we were talking about the hopes and dream the kids had for the future and graduates and stuff like that. We talked to the principal and asked what he thought the future of Juan Diego was back when school started, 20 years ago.”

News articles continued to be written and published online in “The Speaking Eagle” during online learning, he said.

While the staff applauded their top finish, it also provided drive for the future of Juan Diego’s journalism program.

“Last year, I was into awards at one point, almost to a fault at one point, so I had to pull it back,” Elliott said. “I’m trying to get them to really think about the big national awards. It’s one thing to win in Utah, and that’s great, and third place in the 4A-6A category in Utah, that’s really good. But there’s even another strata of awards and recognitions that are really, really cool and those are an incredible honor. So, not only could you win a Utah championship, but you could even get to a national championship level. That’s kind of a goal for all of them, to keep pushing them toward. If we are pushing ourselves to win these awards, then we’re also, like an emancipation of excellence or something like that, as long as you’re pushing yourself in that direction, then you’re going to achieve that.”

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