HUNTLEY – Marek Makowski remembers his younger days, when he tried to replicate novels such as “Harry Potter” and “Eragon.” Novels that would seamlessly captivate his attention for hours.
Makowski, now a 17-year-old senior at Huntley High School, would emulate the storylines of his favorite childhood novels, changing character names and rehashing plot lines to gain experience with writing.
A son of Polish immigrants, Makowski often would write his “knock-off” stories while also trying to master the English language in a household where Polish is still the “language in demand,” he said.
“I wouldn’t break up paragraphs, so it would just be this confusing dialogue,” Makowski said of his early storytelling. “But I knew I loved writing and reading.”
Makowski’s love for writing has evolved as he has fine-tuned his storytelling skills since joining Huntley High’s student newspaper, The Voice, his sophomore year. Last month, the Illinois Journalism Education Association rewarded Makowski for his writing by naming him the Illinois Journalist of the Year.
Makowski put three years’ worth of feature stories, columns, news stories, page designs and photos into a 38-page portfolio. The IJEA judges gave him the statewide honor based on the quality and depth of his work.
Makowski’s award is one of many on a growing list of accolades for the school’s journalism program. The staff at The Voice recently won second place in the Illinois High School Association’s journalism finals for the second consecutive year.
Last year, the National Scholastic Press Association awarded The Voice Online with a 2012 Online Pacemaker mere months after the newspaper launched its website.
Makowski plans on building on his early journalism success this fall at the University of Missouri, where he will major in journalism.
Makowski recently sat down with reporter Stephen Di Benedetto to talk journalism, his statewide award and his love for storytelling.
Di Benedetto: Why are the stories more important to you than the awards?
Makowski: Accolades are great and all. The sports editor who was before me at The Voice goes to Missouri right now, and he always tells me how journalism is just an ego-infested land over there because everybody flaunts their awards. Winning stuff is nice, and I get to put a shiny thing on my wall, but I think it’s more important to tell people stories. For this [upcoming] issue, I wrote a story about a kid who used to get bullied in middle school, and he started joining kickboxing. He got more confident, and he got more control of his life. I think writing that is much more important to me and the community rather than getting an award for it.
Di Benedetto: Why do you want to pursue journalism as a career?
Makowski: I love telling people’s stories. I love going out reporting and talking to people. It helps readers learn things about life, and it helps me learn things about life. Writing is a lot of fun for me.
Di Benedetto: How do you think you’ve improved as a journalist since sophomore year? What do you need to still improve upon as you head to college?
Makowski: I have a really long way to go, but my interview skills by far have improved. I know what to look for now ... I know how to look for intriguing stories now. I’m better at writing ... I’m working with pace and tone in my writing. I just need to get a lot more experience. My writing isn’t as pristine as I want it to be. I’m still in high school.
Di Benedetto: You read a lot about how the journalism industry is in flux and how younger people are being turned away from the industry given the changes. Why do you want to pursue it in the face of uncertainty?
Makowski: People are saying newspapers are dying. You are always going to have media that evolves and changes, and people are going to shift to the web, and they are going to shift to whatever is invented next. But stories are always going to capture people. You tell a story and you get people involved. ... Instead of just listing off facts, the story is what hooks people in and that’s what people are going to be looking for no matter how terrible the job market is or how bad the pay is.
The Makowski lowdown
Hometown: Lake in the Hills
Favorite publications: Longform.org, The New York Times, GQ, Esquire, Sports Illustrated
Extracurricular activities: Writer and editor for The Voice and member of the varsity boys tennis team
Fun fact: Speaks fluent Polish and English