D5G-cPOWAAY9E4IJulia Benkendorf may just be a freshman, but already she has a state title under her belt. At the IHSA state journalism finals held over the weekend in Normal, Julia took first place in news writing.

In all, Saint Viator advanced three staff journalists from the Viator Voice to state. They were among students from 83 high schools across the state who qualified at their respective sectionals.

Grace Chang ’19, who is the co-local editor, earned a state berth in review writing after placing second at sectionals, which were held at Stevenson High School. Brenna Drabik ’21 also made it to state in editorial cartooning. She also placed second at sectionals and provides art for the Viator Voice. 

This was the third straight year that members of the Viator Voice staff advanced to state in journalism, and the second time they earned a state title. Back in 2017, Stephen Hannon won first place in headline writing, while his classmate, Elias Rivera ’17 earned a fifth-place medal in editorial cartooning.

D5G-cPPX4AE6qLa“It’s pretty impressive, especially considering the quality of the other journalism programs in our section,” says Mr. Chris Paolelli ’02, newspaper moderator. “We’re competing against much bigger schools who often have large staffs, dedicated journalism courses or multiple advisers.

“I was already thrilled to bring this many students to state,” he adds, “but I absolutely did not expect our youngest qualifier to bring home gold.”

For Julia, the world of journalism and competing at state are all new. This is the first time she has written for a newspaper and she is not an editor on the Voice. Yet, she loves to write and she liked the challenge of creating a concise news story, on the spot, she says.

At the state competition, students in news writing were “assigned” to cover a press conference about a bill up for passage in the state legislature that permits the use of recreational marijuana. Students had to write a story for page one, based on the written background they were given and the 20-minute press conference. In all, they had 90 minutes, including the press conference, to draft their story of 400 words. They were judged on leads, clarity and accuracy of details, use of quotations, and proper style and mechanics in addition to writing and organization.

“I felt like I was rushed,” Julia said later, “and probably wouldn’t place since I didn’t have enough time to proofread it.”

She not only placed, but she also won the event and now her plaque will hang outside the second floor “newsroom” at Saint Viator among its other awards.

D5G-cPMXoAAKYLtThe other two categories were just as difficult, though, in the end, neither Lion placed. For Grace, who also serves as local editor as well as co-editor in chief, she had 90 minutes to write up a review of a seven-minute music video by Eddie Vedder.

“I usually take a long time to write, so I really felt pressured by the time constraint,” Grace said. “But I enjoy review writing. I wrote for the entertainment section last year and like the engaging aspect of looking at a movie clip or listening to music and then reviewing it for your classmates.”

Brenna contributes all sorts of artwork to the Viator Voice, but she had her hands full with the state prompt for editorial cartooning. She and the other contestants were given a backgrounder on a high school seeking to replace some of its fine arts classes with another study hall for students. They were given 90 minutes to design a cartoon either supporting or opposing the proposition. They were judged on how clear their editorial statement was as well as their artistic ability and creative approach.

“I thought it would be something a little more bold,” Brenna said of their subject, “but I liked having to focus more on my creative side to try and come up with something.”