NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - School journalism is journalism. That was the main message from the 40th annual Garden State Scholastic Press Association (GSSPA) Fall Press Conference. Student journalists from The Highlander and The Claymore attended the conference at Rutgers University on October 28, when both staffs were honored with awards, as well as learned how to improve as journalists.

Students who attended the conference were given the opportunity to sit in on workshops that offered tips and tricks for yearbook writing, newspaper writing, and leadership. Senior Ellie Robinson opted to attend the photography and leadership workshops she attended. Robinson left with more information, despite having attended previous conferences. Robinson said, “These classes gave us important things that we could bring back to the class.” 

Being a new member of the staff, freshman Sasha Yablonovskiy felt that there was quite a bit to learn. “My favorite part [of the conference] was learning how to get different perspectives on photos so I can have more attractive pictures rather than having boring ones,” Yablonovskiy said. 

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The press conference every year is all about the young journalists in New Jersey, but this year there was a larger focus: the New Voices bills. This legislation is about protecting young journalists’ freedom of speech. It protects them from retribution from administrators for exercising their First Amendment rights.

Yearbook and Newspaper advisor Staci Toporek has stressed the value of students from different high school publications meeting and learning from one another at these gatherings. “One of the most important parts of this year’s conference was for student journalists to learn more about their rights as student journalists in regard to their first amendment rights” Toporek explained. If the New Voices law passes in New Jersey, which it has in 14 other states, student journalists will have more freedom in what they can write and share with the public. 

As pressing as the matter of student journalists’ rights are, the big announcements were for the state winners in publication contests. Sam Bass, The Highlander’s Editor in Chief, and Nicky Pellegrini, the former business manager for The Claymore, were awarded honorable mention for their writing skills, specifically their expertise in sports writing. This was not the only feat GL’s journalism program took away, as staff members of The Claymore were winners as well. The 2018-2019 staff received an all New Jersey Platinum award for its submission to the 2019 Summer Yearbook Contest.