Reporters sat in a row revising story drafts on the desktops in front of them. Page designers clicked and dragged images between columns of text. An illustrator drew, and a photographer cropped. Standing near a table covered with the newspaper’s latest issue, editor-in-chief Natalie Burdsall piped up: She reminded the staff that deadlines were looming. Even at the newspaper just ranked best in the nation, such reminders are sometimes warranted.
“If you’re a writer, please look at your stories,” Burdsall said above the noise. “We’ve been making edits all weekend. Even if you’ve edited your story once, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s done. If you have any questions, please come talk to us.”
You’d be forgiven if the newsroom you were imagining was a local daily.
The Pinnacle is put together by 50 Summit High School students every six weeks throughout the school year.
After topping the podium in 2015 and 2016, The Pinnacle again won the “Best of Show, Broadsheet Newspaper” category at the twice-yearly National High School Journalism Convention in San Francisco in April. More than 4,500 students participated.
Pinnacle staffers were also recognized in on-the-spot writing and design contests. Mia Strobel was awarded an excellent rating for student life yearbook copywriting. Sophia Sahm took home an excellent rating for editing and headline writing. Jake Hoskins earned an honorable mention for infographic design. Ali Beaulieu received an excellent rating for yearbook cover and end-sheet design. Quinn Fetrow earned an excellent rating for commentary writing, and Franny Rogers received the same for feature writing.
What makes The Pinnacle stand out among student newspapers is its breadth, said Gary Lundgren, the associate director at the National Scholastic Press Association, which organizes the newspaper competition.
“I think it’s pretty exciting that a high school newspaper today is not only doing a print newspaper but a robust broadsheet with four complete sections,” he said.
Meant to weather a longer rack life than daily or weekly newspapers, The Pinnacle is printed on sturdy newsprint. (The Bulletin handles its printing.)
What first pops about The Pinnacle is its large, clean and flowing illustrations, handled mostly by Gavin Gutowsky, 18 and a senior. The Pinnacle is fully reliant on student-sold ads for the production of the paper, including printing costs, publications adviser Karen Boone said.
“It’s the size of some community weekly newspapers,” Lundgren said, also commenting on the quality of the visuals, design and text. “It’s very professionally done.”
Boone helped found The Pinnacle in 2001. The full-color newspaper, which has a print run of 1,500 copies, now spans two multi-page sections — A (news and opinions) and B (features and sports) — and is distributed to coffee shops and businesses. Each spring, The Pinnacle’s competition issue consists of four sections. Also folded into each competition issue are two print supplements: the alt-weekly-style The Crest, which showcases student musicians, poets and the like, and Exposure, an annual retrospective on school sports and functions. Boone, 67, oversees The Pinnacle’s production and grades students’ work according to quality, cooperation and timeliness.
Previously an English teacher, Boone has worked in the Bend-La Pine School District for nearly 30 years. She also supervises yearbook production in addition to teaching “news staff,” a class offered to sophomores through seniors. Among other high schools in the Bend-La Pine School District, Mountain View and La Pine High print student newspapers; Bend Senior High publishes online. Neither Ridgeview nor Redmond high schools publish student newspapers.
At Summit, Boone relies heavily on editors to recruit new staff by combing classes for those with an aptitude for design, writing and collaboration.
And making deadlines.
Still, sometimes student editors and writers butt heads.
Boone reminded the class not to take editors’ comments or recommendations for revision as personal affronts.
“And do not get into some kind of power struggle,” Boone told the class. “That just doesn’t make the paper better. Be flexible. The one thing that will prevent us from being an excellent publication is saying, ‘I’m not making changes, or I’ve written this once; I’m done.’”
Even though editors often spend weekends putting together The Pinnacle before deadline, Burdsall, 18 and a senior, said the camaraderie makes the long hours fly by.
“That’s a fun part of our paper: It’s not like work at all. It’s almost effortless because we really enjoy the work and we get to bond over it,” Burdsall said. She gave a tour of the editors’ office. A wall-spanning chalkboard was covered with inspirational Frank Ocean lyrics and new story ideas. The editors have a coffee maker and a stash of instant noodles.
“If you have writer’s block, why not take a Cup Noodles break?” said features editor Logan Robertson, 17.
The Pinnacle gives staffers a unique way to interact with the student body.
Pinnacle photographer Wes Zeller is 16 and a sophomore. Never without his camera, Zeller’s role at the newspaper allows him to play observer.
“I’m always at the sports events, but I’m not in the crowds, cheering,” Zeller said. “I’m always watching, taking photos. I feel more connected (that way) to the event.”
For Robertson, the features editor, The Pinnacle allows others to see him in a serious light.
“When I would be like, ‘Oh, our paper came out,’ a lot of my teachers would be like, ‘Wait — you write for the paper?’ And I’d be like, ‘Yes. I edit our paper,’” Robertson said with a laugh. “I feel like a lot of faculty doesn’t know what we’re doing every day. It’s like any other class period, but it means so much more to us. If you do a lab in chemistry, that’s the teacher guiding you. You’re not really putting it together.”
Burdsall mentioned how teachers often bring up articles relevant to topics they’re studying in class. Parents give feedback, too. Sometimes that attention isn’t the kind the student journalists anticipate.
“There’s a heavy emphasis on not messing up quotes of teachers,” Robertson said. “We have done that before. More so last year than this year. You check twice and check a third time.”
Sometimes Pinnacle writers and editors tackle thorny subjects, such as whether the counseling department is sufficiently funded or whether a student fundraiser called the Thunder Pageant is exclusionary to female participants.
“We’re not trying to be rabble-rousers,” Boone said. “But we won’t back down from tough issues.”
The watchdog role is an important service that the best student newspapers in the country provide their schools.
“(Student newspapers) are very much the voice of the students,” Lundgren said.
Michael McDonald, Summit High vice principal, said The Pinnacle, helmed by Boone’s “great mentorship,” plays multiple roles on campus.
“It gives students the opportunity to engage in professional-level journalism,” said McDonald, who will be Summit’s principal in the fall. “They learn the technical stuff and the soft skills. They learn about the production difficulties such as deadlines and the challenges of being a professional in an important job. They learn the kind of courage it takes to be a journalist and how hard that can be sometimes. They learn to tell the truth — the qualities we expect out of a free press.”
About half of The Pinnacle staff interviewed for this story said they intended to pursue careers in journalism. Some intend to join their college newspapers to further hone writing and critical-thinking skills. Burdsall intends to minor in journalism, which she said everyone considers a “dying industry.”
“Journalism is definitely a cool outlet to express myself,” she said. “I definitely see journalism going to a digital platform. I don’t think it’ll take away from the writing; it’s just going to be harder to make it a career as time passes.”
Lundgren agrees that the skills that putting together a newspaper requires will never be outdated.
“Learning how to express yourself both verbally and visually is certainly something that is not dying,” he said. “Whether it’s digital or in print, the avenue in which you communicate that content certainly is changing in our time. But teaching students to gather the news and to tell the verbal and visual story is not dying — even in print.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7816, firstname.lastname@example.org