Blending the old with the new: GSPA continues conference legacy

By Cassidy Hettesheimer, GSPA Student Advisory Board member

I stood with a bag of Three Musketeers and Milky-Ways in one hand and a gestured to my Google Slides presentation with the other. I was braced to chuck a fun-size chocolate across the room with each audience answer. When I looked out into the crowd of our 10:15 session- “Divide and Conquer,” courtesy of myself and my fellow Mill Creek yearbook co-editor, senior Molly Hazelrigs, I was greeted by the scratching of pens and rustling of programs that bore a large “90” on their covers.

 Conference attendees celebrate GSPA’s 90 years with cupcakes and smiles on Oct. 22, 2018, at UGA Tate StudEnt Center.

Conference attendees celebrate GSPA’s 90 years with cupcakes and smiles on Oct. 22, 2018, at UGA Tate StudEnt Center.

Ninety years ago—nearly a century. Nearly a century since Charles Kingsford Smith completed the first flight over the Pacific Ocean, since Frederick Griffith supported the existence of DNA, since the Roaring ‘20s peaked before the stock market crashed a year later. Ten years shy of a centennial has passed since Mickey and Minnie Mouse first appeared on film and, in Athens, Georgia, the Georgia Scholastic Press Association was founded.

Cami Schiappa of Roswell High School’s newspaper, The Sting, designed the red, white and black “90 Years of GSPA” logo that celebrated this milestone by gracing this year’s conference programs, T-shirts, and Snapchat filters. The graphic’s colors reappeared at the table overflowing with red- and white-iced cupcakes and sleeves of Oreos in the hallway on Oct. 22, the morning of the conference. However, beyond this celebration of the past was a decidedly forward-thinking view of the future—the future of high school publication’s designs, of journalism’s power of truth, and of leadership skills for the students shaping news media for the next 20, 30, 90 years.

At the University of Georgia’s Tate Student Center, nearly 900 high school and middle school students from more than 40 Georgia schools attended more than 50 sessions offered throughout the day. These sessions ranged from “The Art of Interviewing” to tours of the NewSource studio. Many lessons focused on ways to elevate both high school publications, such as “Advanced Theme Development” and “Real Time Design,”and their staff members’ futures, like “Set Yourself Up for Success: Turn High School Hobbies into College Majors.”

A few seniors on my school’s yearbook staff attended this latter session to listen to Samantha Meyer, UGA Grady College Director of Experiential Learning, offer advice on studying journalism in college.

 Samantha Meyer, UGA Grady College Director of Experiential Learning, presents “Set yourself up for success: Turn high school hobbies into college majors” during the GSPA Fall Conference Oct. 22, 2018, at the UGA Tate Student Center.

Samantha Meyer, UGA Grady College Director of Experiential Learning, presents “Set yourself up for success: Turn high school hobbies into college majors” during the GSPA Fall Conference Oct. 22, 2018, at the UGA Tate Student Center.

“I want to study journalism because I’ve always liked writing and storytelling. I’m also very outgoing so it’s easy for me to talk to people and get different outlooks on a story. I’m interested in SCAD, Kennesaw State, and UNG but plan on transferring in to Florida State,” senior Kaitlin Fullerton said when asked about her response to this particular lesson. “This session definitely gave me a lot of information about studying journalism that influenced a couple of my college applications, actually. Before the conference, I was considering early childhood education as my major but the session actually changed my mind on what I want to study. There are so many fields you can venture into with journalism or communications, which is what I’m thinking of studying, and I’m just excited to see where it will take me.”

Not only did student journalists gain insight and future advice from the sessions they attended, but alongside professors, advisers, and seasoned industry professionals, a handful of student attendees also designed and presented their own sessions. Aside from my co-editor and myself resorting to candy-bribery for audience participation at our “Divide and Conquer” staff management lesson, several other school staffs presented. Clarke Central High School’s Beatrice Acheson, Coles Ehlers, Valeria Garcia-Pozo, Kelly Fulford, Elena Gilbertson Hall, Katie Grace Upchurch, and Ana Aldridge divided and conquered (pun intended) to helm three different lessons: “AP Style Survival Guide,”“Lit Mag A-Z” and “Engaging, Effective Editorials.”

“I designed [the AP style presentation] with a lot of care and with the audience in mind, with a lot of GIFs and just trying to make it look pretty,” Odyssey newsmagazine’s Valeria Garcia-Pozo said. “The audience… seemed to be engaged, which made me happy because I know AP Style isn’t the most interesting thing in the world to everybody. Personally, I just really enjoy presenting…It was also a really cool thing to say I have under my belt, and I’m definitely going to put that on my resume.”

 Eric NeSmith, vice president of development At community newspapers Inc., offers an on-site critique .

Eric NeSmith, vice president of development At community newspapers Inc., offers an on-site critique .

Of course, annual traditions also held strong; on-site critiques were offered for publications, and between sessions, attendees snagged informational pamphlets and, most importantly, free pens from publishers’ and photographers’ booths. As per standard, there was the granting of several GSPA awards. An 11:15 awards session saw All-Georgia honors awarded to Calvary Day School’s yearbook, Beacon, and Clarke Central High School’s literature magazine, The iliad, after presenters announced other photography, writing, and design awards for both types of publications. Emma Barfield of Ola High School placed first in the conference’s yearly On the Spot photo contest, and the annual First Edition Best Overall awards went to Henry W. Grady High School for news website and newspaper, and Clarke Central High School for newsmagazine. (The full list of winners is available here.)

“I was especially proud of our co-Editor-in-Chief, Katie Grace Upchurch, who specializes in design and made the magazine look beautiful, as well as our News Editor Alex Robinson, who went to great pains to complete a long feature profile on Brian Kemp,” Garcia-Pozo said of Odyssey’s recognition. “It was definitely a special victory for our whole staff because it was the first time in several years we have been eligible to win that honor at GSPA. In other years, the conference has come before we have actually received the first issue in print.”

“In other years”—we all admit, this phrase comes up frequently when working on a publication. We scour through previous issues, yearbooks, broadcasts, and lit mags to both provide a guide for the next publication and to look at what we can innovate, accentuate, improve. In the case of GSPA, this means 90 years of “other years”—90 years of writing, interviewing, filming, publishing. Ninety years that saw journalism evolve from strictly print to videos and online articles and, now, news in our back pockets.

“My favorite session was the social media one that the adviser from Mountain View did,” Mill Creek sophomore yearbook staff member Afrida Raidah said. “I specifically remember this one because she was my sister’s Language Arts teacher from freshman year. We learned about how social media can be used to broaden the coverage we get from schools, especially things we don’t have space for in the book or can’t cover in the newspaper. For Mountain View, they have an Instagram theme and a cohesive look that attracts students. At our school, we can definitely improve and expand our social media to get people to buy our yearbook and be interested in our book.”

 Paul Nickles, GSPA Student Advisory Board member, and Sibyl Poston, co-editors of Thompson High School’s Archive yearbook, share tips and tricks for growing staffs during the GSPA Fall Conference Oct. 22, 2018, at the UGA Tate Student Center.

Paul Nickles, GSPA Student Advisory Board member, and Sibyl Poston, co-editors of Thompson High School’s Archive yearbook, share tips and tricks for growing staffs during the GSPA Fall Conference Oct. 22, 2018, at the UGA Tate Student Center.

The sessions offered at GSPA—some about podcasting, others about analyzing social media data—celebrate this shift in the journalistic landscape that will continue as we attend college, seek out jobs, and forge our way through this ever-changing and ever-important industry. Even GSPA’s student advisory board’s duties at the conference signaled such a shift: manning Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat throughout the day, using #GSPA18.

Yet, we were still talking to attendees, still photographing, and other sessions also recognize these traditions that make up the backbone of scholastic journalism: cooperative teamwork, solid photography, in-depth interviews, and the importance of an interesting lede. Is this balance not what high school journalism is, at its essence? Recognizing the ways our school and the people of its community—and the world—evolve each year alongside when and where they remain the same is a thread that, I am sure, is not bound to just the pages of my school’s yearbook.

So, a theme of “GSPA Turns 90” was rather appropriate for such a conference: strong ties to the how the organization has grown in the past, but, still, ten more years until that centennial. Ten more years before we reach triple-digits, and, even then, the growth and evolution of scholastic journalism will not stop—nor the celebration of tradition, nor my terrible tosses of Three Musketeers as, in front of a small group of student journalists, I sang the praises of the new Google Sheets and the old team organization and, above all, the work of GSPA that allows the new and the old to blend together into a successful conference each year.


Cassidy Hettesheimer is a senior at Mill Creek High School in Gwinnett County. She is the editor-in-chief of her school’s yearbook, Accipiter, and is a GSPA Student Advisory Board member.