The Duncan Banner

April 9, 2012

Power of print

Pitchfork editors lead team to state journalism win

Toni Hopper
The Duncan Banner

DUNCAN — Duncan High School’s Iremma Cuellar and Jordyn Richardson were sitting on the edge of their seats at the Oklahoma Scholastic Media competition, when it was announced the Demon Pitchfork achieved Sweepstakes title in the state school newspaper contest.

Despite being involved in a dignified judging on the University of Oklahoma campus, first-year editor Cuellar and art editor Richardson reacted the same way.

“I think I was yelling and screaming at that point,” Richardson said. “I didn’t know we were this good.”

Recalling her initial response, Cuellar said, “I was just so proud, but my stomach was really queasy. I felt really on edge — I was clinching my hands.”

The OSM’s James F. Paschal Memorial Sweepstakes was the reward for the combination of many late nights, sacrifices, angst and joy logged not only by Cuellar and Richardson, but the entire Pitchfork team. The Paschal Memorial award is the top honor for Oklahoma school newspapers, and the 2012 prize is the third straight for The Pitchfork.

Led by teacher Lisa Snider for five years, The Pitchfork brand has become a campus favorite, and Cuellar believes she knows why.

“It’s the family bond, we’re all so close. We can yell at each other and be OK the next day,” she said. “We’re here (in the journalism classroom) instead of at home many nights.

“Mrs. Snider still has students from four years ago and they come back — they may not know us but they know we’re their people.”

There’s a “family atmosphere” amongst ever-evolving staff members. This school year began with about 14 on staff. Over the year though, some have discovered being on a school newspaper is much harder work then anticipated, or they’ve decided journalism isn’t what they want to do.

Richardson and Cuellar, though, have made the product a part of their lives; both have sacrificed much this year.

Richardson, a senior, quit a paying part-time job so she could dedicate more time to not only school, but also the newspaper. It’s her third year on staff.

Cuellar a junior, is a second-year staff member, who began the year as a co-editor with sophomore Reagan Robinson. Robinson stayed on the staff through Christmas, and Cuellar had praise for the sophomore, as well as previous editor-in-chief Hayden Demerson, who graduated in 2011.

“To be honest,” Cuellar said, “I thought she (Robinson) would be better at this then I was. Reagan was focused. I’ve never had any leadership position. This was my first one.”

After working with him last year, Cuellar considers Demerson a mentor. “To me,” she noted, “he knew everything. He had so much experience. I try to get stuff done and push for deadlines. It doesn’t always happen.”

Cuellar isn’t bashful about acknowledging the drop-out rate in the program, because many people aren’t aware of the stress that comes with producing a newspaper, even at the high school level.

“For some, the stress was too much. It takes a lot of dedication and responsibility,” she observed. “I have a job and practically work full-time. But those still here, we just love the newspaper and bringing this news to students.”

Each of the editors also have certain editions or projects to brag about.

“I was really proud that we pulled off a ‘double-truck’. It was my first time and we got really good ideas. We worked well with white space,” Cuellar said. “A ‘double-truck’ is a spread that takes two pages, with one topic specifically that pulls it all together.”

For Richardson, it’s the edition that will come out Friday. “I feel like this issue is my favorite,” she said. “We’re doing a feature page this month and it has been pushed back a lot of months.

“We’ve been working on it for months and with the design. My biggest goal is to work on designs for the newspaper.

“Deadlines are always a big deal.”

The Pitchfork family likes to keep content a secret so the student body can actually enjoy the physical copy of the newspaper. In an age and culture in which social media and technology compete with newspapers, they’ve found a way to keep newsprint alive.

“When I read a book, I don’t want to read it on a Kindle. I like being able to have the floppy ears in my book and have it marked up. It’s the same thing with a newspaper,” Richardson said. “Sure, websites, online — it gives you the news, but it doesn’t have that sentiment or history,.

“One of our staff members brought us a paper from Hawaii, it was a reproduction (about the attack on) Pearl Harbor, but still, just having that in your hands or being able to have newspaper clippings is good.”

Visual information and news presentation is a driving force for Richardson, who intends to pursue a career in film.

“Seeing the photo credit throughout the newspaper, just seeing that my name is in it so many times, makes me feel good. I’ve learned how to ‘try’ being an art editor,” she said. “You have to learn how to work on public relations with people and learn to envision.”

And though she’s a senior, Richardson looks up to Cuellar, noting, “She’s an amazing editor and we are all learning in the process.”

Cuellar had worried about leading the staff when Robinson left, but with the Sweepstakes win she’s gained a new level of confidence.

“I was very, very surprised but pleased,” Cuellar said. “During the whole year, we were short on staff members, and just on survival mode. We tried our best, but toward the end we had to get it done. Our goal is to get papers to our student body.”

Neither editor had anticipated winning the Sweepstakes prize, but they agreed it makes them want to do better with the next edition. They also now have a goal of entering The Demon Pitchfork in the national contest this summer.

“It’s about life lessons,” Cuellar said, personifying the journalism course and newspaper production. “Mrs. Snider told us we would learn this stuff in college by juggling a job and this newspaper.

“I’m confident now I’ll be able to juggle a job and meet deadlines.”