The Accolade’s online website wins Best of Show for first time in Orange County writeoffs contest; newspaper also earns Best of Show plaque for fifth straight year

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Image used with permission from Chariti Li

A group of Accolade editors and journalism adviser Tommy Li (right) celebrate Tuesday, March 9, after school outside the 130s wing their recent accomplishments, winning Best of Show plaques for newspaper and online from the Saturday, Feb. 20, Orange County Journalism Education Association writeoffs contest as well as earning the program’s second Silver Crown plaque last spring from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association. Because of coronavirus-related campus restrictions, Li and his editors wore masks and remained six feet apart.

Nevya Patel

For the first time since The Accolade revived its news website in the 2018-2019 school year, the program swept the Orange County Journalism Education Association [OCJEA] Best of Show categories for Newspaper and Online Newspaper.

“To accomplish this amazing feat during a coronavirus pandemic year is a testament of just how dedicated and passionate our staff have become over the years,” said English and journalism teacher Tommy Li, who returned to advise the journalism program in the 2016-2017 school year after taking a break for family reasons in the 2008-2009 school year. “Kudos especially to the senior editors, who set the standard for where we want to be as student journalists to produce Los Angeles Times-quality work.”

As the second-year president of the OCJEA, Li also was the one in charge of making the announcement of the Best of Show winners during the closing ceremony portion of the Feb. 20 OCJEA writeoffs contest, which featured three other Orange County journalism programs competing in the Newspaper Best of Show Division 1 category and seven other schools entering in the Online Newspaper field.

“I was absolutely ecstatic when I heard ‘Sunny Hills’ called out for first place,” web editor-in-chief [EIC] senior Andrew Ngo said. “Once I heard our name called out, I went berserk and screamed loud enough that my parents thought I had a heart attack or something else bad happened to me.”

Ngo said he did not expect any other result and had full confidence that The Accolade’s website would secure first place and earn the journalism program’s first plaque in this category, taking over the top spot from last year’s winner, Portola High School’s Portola Pilot.

“I actually attended the awards ceremony for the OCJEA write-offs last year and remember a particular moment in which Mr. Li, who had been calling out the winners, looked me in the eyes across the auditorium before calling out Sunny Hills for second place in website Best of Show,” he said. “So when I was promoted to web EIC a few months later, I made finishing first in the county one of our important goals; I am very happy to report that we accomplished that goal.”

The online news website had received the highest point total based on a judge’s score for design and content. OCJEA officials did not provide names of the judges, saying only that they were either working in professional media or are journalism college professors.

“Strong design, clear navigation and compelling visuals,” wrote the evaluator about The Accolade’s online web design, which earned 35 out of 40 points possible. “Good use of multimedia.”

The website, shhsaccolade.com, earned the most points — 58 out of 60 — from the content judge, who left these comments with the staff: “Excellent variety of up-to-date stories. The student poll is an engaging feature. It appears to get great response, attracting students to the site. … Well-written opinion pieces about both campus and national events. Eye-catching photography, such as the rain art.”

Meanwhile, The Accolade maintained its stronghold in the Best of Show Newspaper Division 1 category, winning a plaque for first place for a fifth straight year. (Division 1 means a newspaper with more than 12 pages submitted for judging and published during the contest’s particular school year.) 

To accomplish this amazing feat during a coronavirus pandemic year is a testament of just how dedicated and passionate our staff have become over the years. Kudos especially to the senior editors, who set the standard for where we want to be as student journalists to produce Los Angeles Times-quality work.”

— Tommy Li

“I was super excited to hear the results,” said senior Tyler Pak, who as EIC oversees the print/PDF and online website production. “This has been a challenging year, and the pandemic has made even the most basic tasks a lot more difficult.

“I also felt relieved; we have been on a pretty long winning streak for this award, and I did not want to be the EIC to break it.”

Pak along with his top editors agreed to submit the first PDF issue — the Oct. 30 one with a special sections theme titled, “Photo Finish,” focusing on the Nov. 3 elections — of the 2020-2021 school year, which was posted as a PDF file on the online website as as well as the school’s web page.

The content judge gave the issue a 54 out of 60, while the person critiquing the layout only took off four points out of 40, giving The Accolade’s entry a total score of 90, three points shy of the online website’s score.

“This is sincerely one of the best looking newspapers. … Kudos to you all!” the layout judge wrote in the overall comments section of the digital score sheet. 

The print judge for content noted the Oct. 30 issue’s variety of stories as well as the strong writing.

“All sections are covered and clearly defined. … Writing style is conversational and of interest to the readers,” the evaluator wrote.

WRITING CONTEST SWEEPSTAKES AWARDS

For the first time in Li’s return as adviser, many of those who competed in the OCJEA sweepstakes writing categories — news, editorial, feature and sports — placed in the Top 10 in each to propel them to a third-place finish; the highest that a previous team had placed was fourth during the 2017-2018 school year. A team from Northwood placed first this year followed by a team from Fountain Valley High School.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Feb. 20 contest was held over the Zoom platform instead of at Fullerton College, and winners in the on-the-spot writing contest were announced a week later through a digital presentation released on Feb. 26.

 

Opinion editor senior Hope Li was the only one from The Accolade team to earn a first-place trophy for her editorial about a fictitious school district’s decision to no longer make available in its curriculum certain classic novels like To Kill a Mockingbird and Of Mice and Men.

“I was really shocked and didn’t truly believe it until I saw my name on the screen,” Hope Li said. “I didn’t place at all the last time I competed in the writeoffs for news writing, so I never imagined placing in the top three, let alone first place.”

Copy editor junior Michelle Sheen placed fourth in the same category as Hope Li, while Ngo and sports editor junior Kristima Aryal placed third and eighth, respectively, in sports writing. Sophomore Lauren Jung, assistant copy editor, and junior Alice Shin, assistant news editor, came in seventh — Jung in feature writing and Shin in news writing.

All of them will be eligible to compete March 13 in the state writeoffs, also held over Zoom.

“I honestly was not sure that I could place because there were so many reporters who participated all over the county who are talented writers, but I tried my best and kept my hopes high,” Shin said.

In non-sweepstakes categories, first-year staff illustrator, junior Jacqueline Chang, placed second for her editorial cartoon about the same topic, while first-year photographers senior Aliyah Ahmad and junior Audrey Seo respectively placed first in feature and news photography.

Despite many staff members’ lack of experience in the entire production process, Pak believes that the 2021-2022 staff will continue The Accolade’s award-winning legacy under Li’s guidance.

“This kind of work can be stressful but keep your goals in mind and do everything you can to achieve them,” he said. “I sincerely hope that The Accolade will continue to thrive without me and the rest of the seniors. We have done our best to lay a strong foundation — continue to build.”

OCJEA AWARDS FOR SCHOOL’S YEARBOOK STUDENTS

Two Helios staff members participated in the OCJEA writeoffs yearbook contest.

Out of four teams that competed in the Yearbook Copy and Yearbook Design contests — with Fullerton Union High School placing first in both — the Helios duo of design editor junior Joyce Pau and staff member sophomore Larissa Yoon placed third and fourth, respectively. 

“I offered my students the opportunity to compete and they accepted,” said Helios adviser Lindsay Safe, whose program did not compete last year. “I think I needed a break last year after being the OCJEA president for so long. After looking at their layout, I was surprised they [did not] place higher for design.”

Helios EIC senior June Kim, who did not compete in any of the competitions because she already had in previous years, still expressed praise for the two staffers. 

“I was not there for the announcement, but when I heard, I was happy for those who placed high and was proud of everyone despite how they did because I know they all tried their best,” Kim said. “I did end up seeing what we submitted, and I thought it was really good, so I was a little surprised that it did not place higher.”

Pau had this to add about her experience:

“Given the time we had, I am really proud of our performance during the contest,” she said. “Even as a design editor, I was definitely not super confident before I got there, but knowing the foundations and having a good understanding of design helped me get through the competition.”