Setting the pace

Millard West receives Pacemaker in newspaper and broadcasting


photo by Morgan Weir

Millard West’s newspaper, the Catalyst, was submitted at the end of the 2020-2021 school year for Pacemakers. The Catalyst, along with the MWHS Wildcat News, won a Pacemaker under the hard work and leadership of editors. “In my two years, I moved from staff reporter to editor in chief,” former Millard West Catalyst editor-in-chief Emma Baker said. “I had zero design experience at the beginning of that second year and had to learn as I went. Being in that leadership position, I learned how important it is to be adaptive and communicative.”

Morgan Weir, Editor-in-Chief

The Millard West Catalyst newspaper and MWHS Wildcat News broadcast won two Pacemaker awards for the 2020-2021 school year. The national awards, given out by the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA), recognize “excellence in American student journalism.” The win made Millard West the only Nebraska representative in both categories, and they were the first school from Nebraska to win a broadcasting Pacemaker. 

Dubbed the “Pulitzer Prizes of student journalism,” the Pacemaker awards have been given out since 1927. A panel of professionals judge submitted entries on the basis of coverage, quality of writing, leadership, design, photography and graphics. Finalists were announced in October and the winners were announced on Nov. 13. Millard West was among 17 broadcast finalists and was ultimately named one of the country’s top five. In newspaper, they were among 66 finalists and the top 29 winners. The Prowler Yearbook submitted for consideration and will find out in spring if they won a Pacemaker. 

Former MWHS Wildcat News editor-in-chief Edison Geiler helped lead the staff to this historic achievement. His innovations in broadcasting — including a new intro, graphics and news briefs — elevated the Wildcat news to an award-winning level despite lacking the resources of schools in larger states. 

“I think the biggest challenge I faced was competing against schools in large markets with a lot more resources than us,” Geiler said. “I mean, these schools have their own studios, professional grade cameras and lighting systems. You could tell a lot of people worked on these and they had big funds. Millard West has a lot of resources, but comparatively it was sort of difficult to try to find ways to match that level of budget and professionalism. That’s why it was so important that the quality of our stories were great.”

Geiler also received fourth place in the Broadcast Sports Story category for his story “Sallis leads Mustangs to pull away from Wildcats” with Former Striv Executive Producer Jonathan Willis. Former News Director Dana Summers and former Features Editor Jenna Reynolds received an honorable mention in Broadcast News for their story “No matter how small” and Prowler Photo Editor Anna Burton won third place in Sports/Action Photo for her photo “Wildcats claw past Jr. Jays.” 

While Millard West has been named finalists before, last year’s editor-in-chief Emma Baker led the staff to their first Pacemaker win. With the assistance of adviser Mark Hilburn, she dedicated her time to learn how to effectively lead the staff, use design programs, layout a newspaper and edit stories. In the end, her hard work was recognized with the highest national scholastic journalism award.

“It was an absolutely crazy surprise for me,” Baker said. “Honing in on the ‘why’ of stories and having the commentary or sources to back that up was something we always tried to work on. In the end, the hours of writing and revision by our staff members, editors and Mr. Hilburn truly paid off.”

Hilburn has been teaching journalism at Millard West for 13 years. His leadership, encouragement and extensive knowledge of journalism have previously led his staff to win Gold Crown and All-American Awards. This is his first Pacemaker win, and after five years of advising the newspaper and broadcast staff, it is especially meaningful to both him and his students. 

“As a journalist, you’re often the one behind the camera or you’re the one that is behind the writing, so you don’t really celebrate yourself very much,” Hilburn said. “Our job is to tell the stories of our community, and it’s hard work. I don’t think that people understand just the amount of time and effort that you put into a story. I think to be rewarded, and know that the work that you’ve done ranks among the top stories in the country, is just really gratifying.”

Due to COVID-19, the national NSPA convention in Philadelphia was not held, so winners did not receive their awards in-person. Instead, the staff watched a recorded virtual presentation of the award show. Though they were not able to have the in-person experience for their first Pacemaker win, the awards are a recognition of the hardship that came with reporting during a pandemic and the perseverance of the student journalists who continued to produce high-quality work despite many obstacles.