The Crimson Crier Makes History
Sparkman High School’s The Crimson Crier newsmagazine has made school history after winning the highest national scholastic journalism award from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association, the Gold Crown.
The crown awards are the highest recognition given by the organization, based at Columbia University in New York City, to high school publications. Sparkman was the only Alabama school in all categories, including yearbook, broadcast, literary magazine and online, to be recognized.
“In my 21 years of advising, I have always been so proud of what my students have accomplished in producing publications. The Gold Crown is especially special because it is the first one in school history. It takes good quality writing, design and coverage to get this honor. We have won three silver crowns and those are great achievements as well,” adviser Erin Coggins said. “The Gold Crown, though, is like winning a national championship. It is a credit to all the hard work the staff put into creating the Crimson Crier.”
This national award follows several awards the program has won previously this year, including third place Best of Show at the National Scholastic Press Association’s fall convention in St. Louis. The newsmagazine competed against 50 other newsmagazines at the convention.
Not only has the staff demonstrated their hard work and dedication in winning these awards, but so has their editor-in-chief Tess Warren, who has been with the Crimson Crier for three years, two of which she has served in the editor position.
“I am so thankful to be given the opportunity to be editor in chief two years in a row, also something that’s never been done before. I hate to treat my first year/staff like my first child/like a Guinea pig, but it was. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot from them,” Warren said. “To think that last year’s magazine was awarded the first gold crown award, I can only imagine and hope for the awards this magazine will get and the next and the next. I’d like to think it can only improve from here. I’d like to encourage the next EIC and the next staff. Every year, every editor-in-chief is given the chance to change things — so change things.”
Warren was awarded the Rick Bragg Feature Writing Award by the Alabama Scholastic Press Association (ASPA) at the organization’s Feb. 17 convention held at the University of Alabama. This award is given to a senior who exhibits the qualities of Bragg’s style of storytelling. Warren was also named the Alabama Journalist of the Year award (JOY). For the award she had to create a digital portfolio of her best work in writing, photography, social media marketing, including a personal narrative, detailed leadership in and outside of the newsroom. She will represent Alabama at the Journalism Education Association’s April conference in San Francisco.
“Though what I presented was my best work, I know there is so much I could have cleaned up, but knowing that my best got JOY motivates me to do even better and keep adding to my portfolio. Though making a whole website was frustrating, I am glad I have it to use for job applications and everything,” Warren said. “Honestly, it wasn’t just the award itself but the cheers from my staff and surprise appearance from my parents that made the moment for me.”
The staff of this year received a total of 49 awards at the ASPA conference, the most of any other Alabama school. They took first, second and third place in the categories of individual newspaper/newsmagazine feature, graphics, review, sports, news, cover, spread and spread package. In addition, senior graphic editor Olivia Lake took first, second and third place in a majority of the website and magazine graphics categories.
“I won several awards for my work, some of which include first place for the on-site editorial cartooning, second for magazine graphics, and the entire category for website graphics. It felt incredible to win so many awards,” Lake said. “Trying to meet deadlines while making work that I’m proud to have my name attached to is always stressful and it is often difficult to find time to appreciate that. Having the chance to relax and let myself feel accomplished was really nice, and definitely motivated me to keep at it for the rest of my time on the staff.”
Despite the fact that it was her first time attending ASPA in person since COVID, senior website editor Kortney Allen, along with her web team, won first place in design and navigation. She says she enjoyed making memories and sharing the excitement of winning with her classmates.
“I felt a mix of emotions, I was shocked and honestly proud of my work. It felt amazing, I am so proud of our staff and the hard work we have done and am so glad that we got recognized for it,” Allen said. “My favorite memory is how much support we showed for each other whenever one of us got called, along with waiting outside when the fire alarm went off and making light of the situation with lunch. It was way more fun than it was online last year, it was a lot more interaction,” Allen said. “The atmosphere was so loving and just filled with excitement and joy for each other. I am so proud of our staff and the hard work we have done and am so glad that we got recognized for it.”
Not only did the staff’s hard work show at ASPA, but also at the Southern Interscholastic Press Association Conference (SIPA), where they received the All-Southern award for their magazine and superior for their website. Junior Vencia Lewis took home an honorable mention for an opinion story and senior Kyla Davison won third place for her personal column on mental health.
“As someone who is passionate about social issues, I felt honored to know that on a national level, my opinion was heard. It’s so difficult as a black woman in the media to really have your voice spoken and listened to,” Lewis said. “ I’m glad that I can be another person of color being recognized for my writing and next year I’m striving to take home a superior.”
All of these awards follow the effects that COVID had on the program. Previous and returning staff members had to endure being online and missing out on opportunities that current staff members got the chance to experience.
“To get a Gold Crown or any of these awards just a couple of years after COVID, is simply amazing. Scholastic journalism programs really took a hit after COVID. Students were not on campus to acquire the skills they needed to communicate face-to-face to build camaraderie as a staff. So, this staff had to catch up in all aspects of how we do journalism at Sparkman High School and that is at a high caliber,” Coggins said. “They really dug deep and produced six solid magazines that covered hard-hitting issues that affect our teen population and they wrote those articles with passion and the design and graphics were just well-skilled eye-candy. Our editor-in-chief over the past two years, Tess Warren, is one of the most dedicated editors I have ever had. She dedicated hours to make sure the magazine was well-edited. She really gives her heart and soul into every magazine the staff produces. Hard work does pay off.”
As journalism changes, Coggins plans to move the program to a convergence media network. The journalism courses are now career tech courses and students have the opportunity to credential in Adobe products.
“Times in the media are changing and scholastic journalism in our schools needs to change as well. I know my students now and those in the future can live up to this and I look forward to seeing how we continue to improve,” Coggins said. “As an adviser, all I have ever wanted was to teach students to appreciate the craft of journalism–to respect it and what it means to our democracy. I also want them to learn how to communicate, how to write and most importantly how to think critically. The awards are just the icing on the cake. It’s not about me. It is all about the students and how they work together to make magic.”