History of NEWSPA
In 1969, a UW Oshkosh professor, Gary Coll, borrowing an idea from other state colleges, took a few college students to local high schools to bring awareness to the journalism field, to discuss ideas for newspapers and yearbooks and to answer questions students might have. This was the humble beginning of the Northeastern Wisconsin Scholastic Press Association, or what was then the School Press Association.
Today NEWSPA is a thriving program for high school journalists. The program has a large conference in the spring, where about 400 students and advisers travel to UW Oshkosh to participate in nearly 40 sessions and panels led by professionals in the journalism field. NEWSPA also sponsors adviser training sessions and yearbook and newspaper competitions. It also produced three newsletters a year, but in 2020, transitioned to a blog.
“It was originally created as a service to high schools in our area,” said Coll, a founder of NEWSPA and a professor emeritus at UWO. “This service was available to any school that asked for it or joined.”
NEWSPA underwent some changes in 1976 when E. Garner Horton, then a public relations professor, formed the Board of Directors and the executive secretary role. This group adapted a constitution for NEWSPA and held the first conference and award ceremony at UWO. The NEWSPA logo, a sketched portion of the state with the word NEWSPA overlaid, was designed by David Rhodes and was used until 2003.
In 1983, Horton retired and turned the control of NEWSPA over to Skip Zacher and Mary Perpich. The two diversified the sessions available and recruited keynote speakers to attend. They also formed summer sessions where high school students would create a college newspaper called “The High School Beat.” The students could work with experienced journalists and discuss their own publications and problems.
Zacher retired in 1999 and the board created a Friend of Scholastic Journalism Award in 2000. Every year the award honors someone who has consistently made significant contributions to NEWSPA. The organization went back to its roots, when in 2013, Coll received the award for starting the organization.
The Board of Directors and Executive Secretary Mike Cowling formed a $500 scholarship in 2001, to reward the accomplishments of a high school journalism student pursuing a career in the journalism field. That scholarship is still offered today with the support of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association Foundation.
In 2002, several men and women were honored at the NEWSPA conference for their contributions in forming and molding the NEWSPA program into what it is today. They were Ron Harrell, Mary Wepner, Marilyn Voeltner, Mary Schultz, Jim McKnight, Marion Anderson, Wally Williams, Evelyn Hince, Cheryl Feld, Ken Biendarra, Anne Wesenberg, Jim Hinstorff and Coll.
In that same year, NEWSPA decided to focus the spring conference on diversity in journalism and received a Diversity Innovation Grant from UW Oshkosh along with several contributions from other news outlets in the state. Minority journalists and diversity sessions were highlighted at the conference. The grant assisted with busing costs for schools with high minority populations, honorariums for minority speakers and attendance fees for minority students and advisers.
Every year the board meets to plan new changes and to try new ideas at the NEWSPA conference. In 2003, Acting Executive Secretary Barb Benish had a new website designed and asked Beth Blanck, a 1995 UW Oshkosh journalism graduate, to design a new logo. In 2008, Benish, by then executive secretary, added another newsletter to highlight the winners and the winning entries of the annual newspaper and yearbook competitions. In 2012, the website was again redesigned, and in 2013, NEWSPA added an eNewsletter, as well as a Facebook and Twitter accounts.
In 2017, the website was again revised, thanks to students Alfonzo Matthews, Emily Fredrick and Alyssa Grove, this time to allow for electronic submission for both the newspaper and yearbook contests. For the 2018 conference, NEWSPA added Instagram to its social media accounts and welcomed back 10 young NEWSPA alumni from Wisconsin, Tennessee, California and South Carolina who shared their stories and pathways of their careers, as well as advice on how to succeed in the ever-changing journalism market.
For the 2019-20 school year, NEWSPA had interns take over its social media, blogs and some of the other functions, including Kennedy Wiegel, who designed a new NEWSPA logo, Alexis Ratliff, Carly Marx, Aleksandra Miladinovic and Mindy Schmitt. In addition, Benish and Kristine Nicolini shared the executive secretary position, and for the first time, the conference was canceled in-person due to COVID-19, while its keynote speaker, Mariah Haberman, recorded her message and it was shared on the NEWSPA website, Facebook page and YouTube. Benish retired in spring 2020 from the position, and Nicolini took over as executive secretary.
While many things have changed in the decades since NEWSPA was created, one important thing has remained consistent over the years — NEWSPA continues to grow and evolve every year to prepare students for the journalism world.