The Spartan leaves NYC with win, newspaper takes first place in the division III category at College Media Association Conference

Members of the Castleton Spartan student newspaper staff attended the annual College Media Association Conference in New York City from March 14-16.

Eight students and one advisor from Vermont State University Castleton recently traveled to New York City to attend the College Media Association Convention – and they returned home victorious, clinching the Apple Award for Division Three Best Newspaper.

Professor Dave Blow has been taking the Spartan staff to NYC for the annual convention for the past 16 years. 

After a four-hour car ride full of a mix of ‘70s music and half-awake students, the Castleton University van landed at the Marriott Marquis Hotel smack in the middle of Times Square.

Their journey wasn’t without its share of unexpected turns, however. 

After stepping off the alphabetically sorted glass door elevators, not recommended for a fear of heights, the group discovered the hotel had mistakenly booked three of their four rooms for earlier in the week. 

Undeterred, Blow was able to trade the one room for a suite and seven (six) students shared the space (a suite) equipped with two rooms, two queen beds, an extra mattress, a couch, and a makeshift ottoman bed, measuring five-feet long and two-and-a-half feet wide.

Blow was forced to stay at another nearby hotel, where he got a second room for another student. 

“It was interesting, but it made it very fun and funny. It made it so that we all got to hang out more than we probably would. It was a bonding experience with everyone, and we all had a good time,” reporter Stone Stelzl said about the rooming situation.

Throughout the convention, held from March 14 through March 16, the Castleton students actively participated in various sessions on various media topics. 

“I attended a conference that talked about team building exercises. The presenter talked about different things to do to help a team get to know each other if there’s an outsider in the group,” editor Pearl Bellomo said. “It made me feel more confident for next semester when we hopefully have some new faces, we can integrate them into the group and make them feel comfortable more quickly.” 

Other sessions ranged from “How to Slay as a Student Teacher” to “Your Sports Page Sucks.” Each session was led by professionals in their field, teaching students how to improve their work.

“The convention was very interesting. Most of the sessions I attended were very inspirational, eye-opening, and encouraging,” artist and page designer Joe Vyvial.

Sports editor Justin Gitto attended sessions to help him think of good content and amp the sports page.

“Stone and I went to one called ‘More than Just a Gamer.’ It was about getting hard news in sports, like uncovering and investigating into sports administration stuff,” Gitto said. “I thought it was cool because, during my time as a sports editor so far, I’ve been trying to get us to do more than just boring stuff in sports and add in more profiles and kind of stretch out in the sports department.” 

One of the educational sessions students went to while in NYC.

There was even an AP Style game show for a session, where you unleash everything you know about the AP writing style. Stelzl participated with hopes of winning it all but fell just short. 

“I should’ve won. It’s not a big deal but I could have won some money,” Stelzl said.

When the sessions concluded for the day, the students made Times Square their playground. Whether it was running around trying to find the best 99-cent pizza, walking the streets at 5 a.m. or taking photos amidst the tall skyscrapers and beaming billboards, there was always something to do.

“Besides the convention, I went to see some great art in the MoMA and The MET museums, a college basketball game in the Madison Square Garden, ate some good food, explored Central Park, and more,” Vyvial said. 

Toward the end of their experience, they had the opportunity to receive feedback on a recent paper through a newspaper critique from a professor from Ohio. 

In the end, the critique was largely positive, aside from tips for improvement on consistent “photo credits and cutlines.” 

“All she had to hate on us for was the cutlines and photo credits. The fact that she was grilling us about that shows that we didn’t have much that needed to be critiqued. Then to see we won the best newspaper was even better,” Gitto said. 

In the end, they picked up the annual Apple Award for Divison III “Best Newspaper,” beating out schools from across the country. The Spartan had come up short in years passed with second or third place finishes, but this year the story flipped. 

“We’ve never won first place before, so this was special,” Blow said.

Students enjoy a group dinner while in NYC

Before bidding farewell to the bustling metropolis, the Castleton team attended a keynote speech centered on the future of artificial intelligence by professor and AI consultant Sree Sreenivasan, providing them with valuable insights into the evolving idea of media and technology.

It was a hard leave for the journalists, but with their suitcases and overpriced hotel coffee clutched in hand, they waved goodbye to the city with a newly formed bond.

“I think Pearl, Gonzo and I would agree on this because we’ve been on it before, but on the New York City trip we spend more time together than we normally would in Castleton and we have a blast together,” Gitto said.

The CMA Convention proved to be an enriching experience for the Castleton Spartans, which was just what Blow said he wanted. 

“I see this trip as a perk for the students who work hard to put out a good newspaper. It’s a chance for them to learn, to see the city. I enjoy exposing them to some place other than Castleton. For me, it’s also a chance to bond with the group on a more personal level. It’s nice to let the guard down a little bit and just be humans,” Blow said.

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