Portola Pilot Journalists Win Awards at Orange County Write-Off Competition

Eight Portola Pilot staff members placed in their respective categories: (top row, left to right) Jordan Lee, Simrat Singh, Ki Joon Lee, Dylan Vanek, (bottom row) Ali Elmalky, Annie Qiao, Maya Sabbaghian and Ava Caleca.

Maya Sabbaghian, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Nineteen Portola Pilot staff members competed at the Orange County Journalism Education Association Write-Offs, winning second place for Online Best of Show and bringing home eight individual awards on Feb. 17 at Fullerton College.

This competition is held for student journalists and photojournalists in the Orange County area to demonstrate their skills. Students can compete in various categories including news, features, critical review, editorial, sports, cartoon, layout and photo.

“What I liked about the Write-Offs was that it was a unique experience that allowed for us to grow as writers,” opinion editor and sophomore Maryam Shama said. “We got to see how we stand in comparison to our peers and improve accordingly.”

Co-editors-in-chief and sophomores Annie Qiao and Maya Sabbaghian placed fourth in news and tenth in editorial, respectively. Photo editor and sophomore Jordan Lee placed first in photography. Copy Editor and sophomore Simrat Singh placed eighth in Sports, while Front and Back Page Editor and sophomore Dylan Vanek placed tenth in layout. Copy Editors Ava Caleca, Ali Elmalky and Ki Joon Lee received Honorable Mentions in Novice News. Qiao, Sabbaghian and Singh’s placements have qualified them to compete at the State Write-Offs on March 17.

“Overall, I think it’s so impressive, because we had this tiny little club last year, and then we expanded and officially launched the class this year,” journalism adviser Brianna Rapp said. “Even though we only have sophomores and freshmen, half of our students who were competing won awards, and they were competing against juniors and seniors who have been doing this for years….I think you can’t consider that anything but impressive.”

Students competing in the news, editorial and cartoon categories attended a mock press conference where a fictitious issue was discussed; the topic of this year’s press conference was the controversy surrounding a high school’s Native American-themed mascots. Students competing in sports and critical review viewed documentaries. Then, all participants had one hour to write an article using only their notes.

“During the press conference, I felt really nervous at first,” Qiao said. “I was struggling to copy down all of the quotes and information, and I felt like I was at a disadvantage compared to other students who had done this event before because competing in news is so unique. However, towards the end of the press conference, I felt more confident about myself, and I began to ask more questions.”

Several hours after the competition, the awards ceremony commenced in the auditorium. Students received rubrics with their work, along with constructive criticism. 

“The Write-Offs are a great opportunity, not only for the awards, which are always really fun to win, but I just think that the most important thing for me is that the students have a really good time going and that they see it as a learning opportunity,” Rapp said. “They get the experience, see other journalists, build this community and grow in their abilities and their skills.”