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Huntley’s online school paper No. 1 in nation

HUNTLEY – Michael Geheren is off to a strong start in his journalism career.

It was just less than a year ago when the Huntley High School junior initiated the online launch of his high school newspaper.

On Saturday, The Voice Online – www.huntleyvoice.com – garnered a national award, dubbed “the Pulitzer Prize of high school journalism.”

The National Scholastic Press Association announced the winners of the 2012 Online Pacemaker contest during last weekend’s high school journalism conference in Seattle.

It was judged on content, design, writing and editing, media and breaking news.

Geheren, online editor-in-chief, and Huntley High School journalism adviser Dennis Brown flew to Seattle for the awards ceremony. They returned from the three-day conference late Sunday. Geheren said the high school will make its official announcement about the national award during school today.

The accolade comes less than a year since the school’s journalism program went live with its website.

“I’ve learned to really appreciate my staff editors, what I’ve been given. These people are amazing,” Geheren said.

This year’s Pacemaker contest drew 159 entries from high schools across the country. A team professionals from the journalism industry judged the submissions and narrowed the list to 31 finalists. At Saturday’s event, The Voice Online was ranked as one of the seven best high school news site in the country. The other Pacemaker-winning sites hail from Iowa, Missouri, Texas, Virginia and California.

The Voice Online went live in October and has covered school-related issues, such as the death of a former student, as well as general community events, such as a campaign stop by Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.

Geheren started creating a website during the February 2011 blizzard. The goal was to modernize the school’s journalism program, boosting students’ training with the tools of today’s industry. Throughout the summer, Brown worked with the administration to develop the new curriculum at the high school, 13719 Harmony Road in Huntley.

Since October’s launch of The Voice, journalism students have published stories and photos on a news cycle that hinges on the day’s events. The print edition of The Voice is published once a month, eight times a year, and distributed throughout the school, which has about 2,300 students.

“Last semester [online readership] was OK,” Geheren said. “But then this semester, we’ve really picked it up. Our daily user average is 600 a day, and on some days it can be tons more. It really depends on the content we post that day.”

Aside from being on the high school newspaper’s staff, Geheren, of Huntley, has had internships with the Mash, the Chicago Tribune’s weekly teen publication, and has contributed blog items for the Huffington Post. Based on those experiences, Geheren realized that the school paper ought to try to catch up on the tools that professional journalists “really use in the real world.”

“I felt like I needed to bring that to [The Voice],” he said. “I wanted share the same opportunity I was given. Plus, it’s not just for future journalists. These are elements of today’s real-world tools.”

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