History of high school journalism’s most historical convention

NHSJC breaks boundaries and forges new frontiers educating students in journalism


Kevin Zhang

Students and advisors find seats at the NHSJC Opening Ceremony on Thursday night. The ceremony featured San Francisco Chronicle critic Peter Hartlaub, who spoke about uncovering truths and breaking stereotypes as journalists.

SAN FRANCISCO — Students and staff clad in bright orange lanyards fill the San Francisco Union Square Hilton, attending a culmination of the year’s achievements in high school journalism. Hailing from over 30 states, 3,000 young journalists participate in workshops about design, photography and videojournalism. They are attending the biannual National High School Journalism Convention (NHSJC), organized jointly by the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) and the Journalism Education Association (JEA). 

With a history stretching back nearly 100 years, JEA was founded in 1924 and began hosting conventions twice a year starting in 1973. As a nonprofit organization, JEA writes a quarterly magazine that covers reporting, writing, design and more.

Over the years, JEA has grown and evolved considerably. In the last 10 years, adviser membership has increased from 2,019 in 2013 to 2,489 today.

Linda S. Putney, who served as the executive director of JEA from 1989 to 2010, saw this growth firsthand. At the time she started as executive director, the convention hosted a crowd of around 2,700, but by 2009, that figure was 6,353. This year, attendance is still recovering from the dip after the COVID pandemic.

Director of Journalism Whitney Huang and Aquila Co-Managing Editor Shareen Chahal (11) lay down issues of The Winged Post at a publication exchange table. Various high school journalists provided copies of their print newspapers, magazines and yearbooks at the convention, allowing students and advisers to learn from other publications. (Kevin Zhang)

Now retired, Putney still attended this year’s convention, where she handled speaker registration at the trade show.

“I still love to come to these conventions.” Putney said. “I’m still involved in the energy that [the students] bring to the convention and all the excitement. My passion is scholastic journalism, and I can still be part of that. And that’s really a ton of fun.”

Having seen NHSJC evolve over the years, Putney has continually brought her experience and expertise to the program, forging the convention into a hallmark of journalism education. Under her oversight, the program has become a defining feature of high school journalism, teaching tips and offering opportunities for student journalists nationwide. 

As one of the only conventions catered towards high schoolers, NHSJC is in a league of its own, providing hope and inspiration for budding journalists. Associate professor at Midwestern State University Dr. Bradley Wilson has been involved with the program since 1988, helping out in activities ranging from judging photographs to teaching workshops. But his favorite part of the experience is meeting the students themselves.

“When I walk around and I see all the students being engaged and students having fun, and students getting experiences they’re just not gonna get anywhere else, I know [the future is] going to be fine,” Wilson said.

From a past deep-rooted in education to a future filled with promise, NHSJC now stands as an integral part of high school journalism enrichment. Putney reflects these aspirations for the program in future years.

“We have such a strong history and foundation for scholastic journalism, and the First Amendment, and I want us to keep that,” Putney said. “But I also want us to go forward so that we make student journalism viable and fresh and current.”