Rock Hill Media students attend ILPC convention in Austin

Jade Kratochvil and Jacob Turner

“Don’t do it because you can,” ILPC speaker Lori Oglesbee said. “Do it because you should.”

On the weekend of April 14, Rock Hill Media students– including nine from Hill Top News, two from Hill Top Times online news and two from Blue Hawk Yearbook– traveled to the University of Texas at Austin to attend the Interscholastic League Press Conference (ILPC).

ILPC is a division within UIL journalism that seeks to recognize the achievements of journalism students across Texas. The organization offer spring and summer conventions to help improve high school publications and support young journalists. Each year, the conference attracts students in journalism programs nationwide, including Prosper High School.

“As a senior this year, I applied to be the Texas Journalist Of the Year,” Rock Hill Radio director and Blue Hawk Yearbook editor Zoey Wilcox said. “Due to my dedication, I got third runner up. Going to workshops over the years has been one of the best things I’ve ever done.”

The journey

Three white SUVs jam-packed with backpacks, duffel bags and suitcases. At each steering wheel sits a media advisor– Taylor Mersmann and Margie Raper from Rock Hill and PHS Eagle Nation Online advisor Lisa Roskens.

One by one, students crawl in to claim their spots. Wilcox takes shotgun. “I have to sit next to Mersmann to keep her entertained. Otherwise she’ll fall asleep,” Wilcox said.

Honoring her position as Rock Hill Radio director, Wilcox links her phone to the speakers and streams music all four hours. The headliner of the car concert was, unsurprisingly, Taylor Swift– the favorite of both Wilcox and Mersmann.

For breakfast, they stopped at Slovacek’s, a Czech bakery in West Texas featuring 35 different kolaches and Texas-sized cinnamon rolls. Over the past three years of journalism conventions and conferences, this has become tradition.

“It’s a staple,” Mersmann said. “They have world famous kolaches and we want everyone to experience that. We normally go to Czech Stop which is on the East side, but Slovacek’s is less crowded and their kolaches are just as good. Plus, it’s a fuel stop.”

The convention

After a quick visit to the state capitol and a stroll down South Congress Avenue, the weekend began with a leadership course. Hill Top News staff members senior Connor Fuxa and junior Taylor Bedford assisted Raper in teaching the class. In addition, Fuxa also taught a class alongside seniors Kyla Lewis and Brandon McVay.

Hill Top News seniors Kyla Lewis, Brandon McVay and Connor Fuxa present a class titled “Newsroom Inside Edition,” in which they share the ins and outs of HTN. “I thought it was really great for me to get some leadership experience,” Fuxa said. (Taylor Mersmann) 

“I thought it was really great for me to get some leadership experience,” Fuxa said. “It was definitely daunting at first to lead kids only a year or two younger than me. But once we got rolling, I was more comfortable. It made me feel good seeing people take notes while I was talking.”

Fuxa is no stranger to the journalism community, as he has attended multiple conventions over the course of his high school career, including the Texas Association of Journalism Educators (TAJE) Fall Fiesta in San Antonio and the Journalism Education Association (JEA) convention in Los Angeles, CA.

“I really love ILPC because unlike TAJE where it’s half competition, half classes, here it’s just one class after the other,” Fuxa said. “It’s a complete celebration of our accomplishments as a team and a good senior trip. We finally get a chance to relax.”

The ILPC weekend consisted of seven 45-minute classes as well as a keynote presentation by photographers of the Houston Chronicle: Jason Fochtman, Yi-Chin Lee, Rachel Natalicchio and Jon Shapey. Classes were taught by 56 speakers including Mark Murray from the Association of Texas Photography Instructors, (ATPI) Bethel University professor Scott Winter and Neelam Bohra, disability reporter for The New York Times.

“This convention is nice because we just get to focus on the classes and what we want to do since we aren’t competing individually,” junior HTN reporter Ashley Sallaway said. “Everything is already submitted and now we wait.”

From lessons on satire and design to discussions on novel writing and photography tips, the wide variety of classes allowed students to narrow their journalism focus. This can be helpful for both new and experienced journalists, as each class presents valuable information which kindles journalistic passion.

“I just joined the yearbook staff this year and it’s been a lot of fun,” senior Tinotenda Chikodzi said. “But I still wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a journalist. After seeing John Moore’s presentation, I have no doubt at all.”

John Moore is an accomplished photojournalist with many awards under his belt, including the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography in 2005 as well as the 2019 World Press Photo of the Year. Moore travels across the country to share his experiences as a press photographer covering stories that are potentially life threatening, such as the war in Ukraine and the Arab Spring in 2012.

“It was just really great to learn from him,” Chikodzi said. “You could tell that he cared about what he does and I admire that.”

The weekend came to a close and the team took home multiple awards. Among the winners of the Individual Achievement Awards [IAA] are Fuxa who was awarded the TAJE Tony Plohetski scholarship and senior Veronika Volcjak as TAJE Best of the Best for broadcast talent. Hill Top News also received their third gold star, recognizing the entire staff and publication as superior.

“It’s great to be nominated as best in the state, whether it’s individually or as a group,” junior Julio Zapato said. “Being able to see other schools’ work helped me understand what I’m good at and what I need to work on.”

Adventures in Austin

“Broadcast has really grown and these kinds of trips bring us closer together,” Sallaway said. “We are bonded by our love for journalism, no matter what kind.”

We are bonded by our love for journalism, no matter what kind.[/pullquote]It is rare for the entirety of Rock Hill Media to come together and learn from each other due to their commitment to their own publications. The trip to Austin, however, flipped the script. Students were assigned at least one roommate, mixing personalities and expertise by rooming yearbook editors with newspaper editors or news anchors with photographers.

We are bonded by our love for journalism, no matter what kind.”

— Ashley Sallaway

Despite the tight schedule, time was made in order to maintain a healthy balance of work and play. After the second day of classes, the group loaded up the three white SUVs and drove to Barton Springs where they had a friendly competition at Peter Pan’s mini golf. Activities like these prove helpful, as they create a collaborative environment necessary for a successful media program.

“Look up. Notice the world around you,” speaker Kristi Rathbun said. “What can we learn from our environment and the people around us? It’s about human connection.”

Whether or not the ILPC attendees become journalists, the convention provides meaningful lessons that can be applied to any profession and any life. Through thoughtful presentations and inspiring stories, ILPC allows participants to forge connections.

“A story is never boring– it’s the way you tell it,” Oglesbee said.