January 22, 2019

Student newspaper finalist for national prize

On Sept. 21, the day the space shuttle Endeavour flew past local landmarks on its way to Los Angeles International Airport, every media outlet in the city had dispatched multiple reporters to look to the skies.

The Boiling Point, Shalhevet High School’s student newspaper, which was recently named a finalist in the National Scholastic Press Association’s competitive Pacemaker contest, was no exception. 

Members of the editorial staff were positioned on the school’s roof, hoping to catch a glimpse of the retired shuttle’s last flight. Others, among them the newspaper’s faculty adviser, Joelle Keene, had traveled to a rooftop in Beverly Hills in case that spot offered a better view. 

“Just another day in the life of The Boiling Point,” said Keene, speaking to the Journal by phone while waiting for the shuttle to make an appearance. 

Producing a newspaper in a 160-student, Modern Orthodox, private high school — one that covers local, national, even international stories – can be a daunting task. But that’s precisely what the paper’s 30-person staff sets out to do between five and eight times every school year. 

After Santa Monica College announced — and later shelved — a planned tuition program that would have charged higher prices for certain classes than for others, The Boiling Point wrote about how the move would have affected Shalhevet alumni. 

When a cheating scandal in New York made headlines and led administrators of standardized tests to implement tighter security measures, a staff writer for The Boiling Point reported that the move could have the unintended consequence of making it more difficult for Shalhevet students — and other Sunday test-takers — to register for the exam. 

And in the wake of reports that devoutly religious men in Israel had harassed and spat at an 8-year-old Modern Orthodox girl because of how she was dressed, Editor-In-Chief Leila Miller wrote a long story about Charedim in Los Angeles, pulling back the curtain on a slice of the city that most Jews — let alone high school students — never see.

All three of those stories — along with sports coverage, a feature about depression, even a restaurant review — were in The Boiling Point’s June 2012 issue. 

From its underground offices, where staffers are known to spend six hours (or more) each day in the week before going to press, The Boiling Point has a record of winning recognition for individual stories, Keene said. She cited a number of national Story-of-the-Year awards and honorable mentions writers have won in the nine years she’s been serving as the paper’s adviser. 

But for The Boiling Point, which is produced on a budget of about $9,000 annually, to be named as a finalist for the Pacemaker, student journalism’s highest honor, represents a new level of collaborative achievement. 

“It’s everybody’s work,” said Keene, who holds a master’s in journalism from Columbia University and has won national, state and local awards for her reporting with a number of newspapers. “It’s the person who makes sure that there’s a line under every photo, and that the photo credit is correct.” 

The Boiling Point is one of nine finalists competing in the broadsheet category for newspapers of 17 pages or more, a category that includes papers from larger and better-known schools, including Harvard-Westlake. 

The winners in all categories will be announced on Nov. 17 at the Fall National High School Journalism Convention in San Antonio. Keene said some of the student journalists will travel to the convention, but she was unsure whether they would be able to accept the award in person, should they win. The ceremony takes place on Shabbat, and the school’s rabbis hadn’t decided whether accepting an award would be appropriate.