The Dispatch Online earns Pacemaker finalist position

The Dispatch Online has been dubbed one of 44 NSPA Online Pacemaker finalists announced, out of approximately 200 submissions from 34 states.

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3,249 pageviews. 1,710 sessions. 1,431 users. In the days following the recent vandalism at Bowie, these were the numbers seen on The Dispatch Online as members of the community flocked to Bowie’s own student-run news site for their up-to-date and in-depth news.


A few weeks later, on Wednesday, Jan. 9, the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) announced the 2019 NSPA Online Pacemaker finalists. James Bowie High School’s The Dispatch Online earned one of the 44 finalist spots out of approximately 200 submitted sites from 34 states, according to the NSPA.


“Until we got this nomination, I always considered [the online publication] like a little sister to the print product,” Dispatch adviser Michael Reeves said. “Now it’s like we have twins, everyone needs the same attention and effort. To be nominated is a huge honor, especially considering that we have really been working on building the online version for just a couple of years.”


As online Editor-In-Chief, senior Mo Orr has lead the efforts to improve the web page for the past two and a half years.


When I first heard that we had a website, I was immediately interested,” Orr said. “I was so excited when I was asked to publish and schedule stories from the paper. At first I was really worried to change anything, but after a little encouragement to experiment and learn as much as I could, I started spending my time after school on the website, changing things up.”


The Dispatch Online originated as an area to simply digitize stories from the print newspaper, according to Orr. Under Orr’s direction, it has expanded its content.


In past years the website was only a place for the publication to have our stories online,” Orr said. “But now we have original content just for the website, dynamic story formats that include active reader polls and pull-quotes, as well as an amazing desktop homepage that displays each story category and the most recent stories from each.”


The Editor-In-Chiefs of The Dispatch, seniors Abby Ong and Cianna Chairez, have made an effort to connect the print newspaper to the online site by including QR codes that lead readers to additional information on the webpage.


“I think we’re hoping that people, especially writers, are going to look at their stories and think more about what we can add to that so we expand our coverage further,” Ong said. “Online is a really good way to do that because we don’t have a whole lot of space in the paper. It’ll increase the chances of people going online if we have little jumps in the paper.”


In order to make the site more appealing to viewers and judges, online managing editor junior Kaitlyn Zellner said the online team strives to receive badges awarded by SNO, the website provider for The Dispatch Online. Badges are categorized recognitions to track site progress, such as the Audience Engagement badge.


“One of our main goals was getting news that people care about up, and making sure that what we put on the website, we’re proud of,” Zellner said. “Something that really pushed us was the badges; we would take a lot of inspiration from what the badge requirements were, and then we would morph that into what we want to make. We take advantage of the features SNO has given us [on the site] and see how we can make them as creative and journalistic as possible.”


The distinction as a Pacemaker finalist does not mean the work is over, though, according to a statement made by Associate Director of the NSPA Gary Lundgren in an email to Reeves.


“In fact, the competition is just heating up,” Lundgren said. “The judges will now review the finalist sites on a regular basis before selecting the Pacemakers immediately before the Anaheim convention.”


The Dispatch, as well as the other finalists, will receive a plaque for this honor on Thursday, April 25 at the Opening Ceremony of the Spring National High School Journalism Convention in Anaheim, California. After the Pacemaker winners are chosen, they will be announced at the convention’s Closing Award Ceremony on Saturday, April 27.


“I am very proud of the students who make up this program,” Reeves said. “I teach lots of basic skills and concepts to my first year classes, but when it comes to the newspaper program, that is students leading other students to be the best possible. If we were somehow to win, it would really say something about how great Bowie is, and more importantly how great the kids who have chosen newspaper are at scholastic journalism.”

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