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IHSA approves changes to state journalism tournament

The biggest change concerns photography, but five other events were also revised. It's never too early to prepare for the spring tournament, so read on!

September 3, 2015

BLOOMINGTON — Beginning this spring, competitors in the photography event at the IHSA journalism tournament will have to tell a story with their photos rather than submit photos that might not have a common theme.

That’s one of several changes to the journalism competition approved this summer by the IHSA Board of Directors.

ihsa logo useAll of the changes originated with the IHSA Journalism Advisory Committee, which meets each May to discuss possible improvements to the tournament. The committee’s recommendations then went to the board, which approved them in June.


The most substantive change concerns the photo event, which will no longer be called “Feature Photography.” Instead, it will be retitled “Photo Story Telling.” The revised event description reads as follows:

“Photographers will submit a series of three photos with a common theme to collectively tell a story. Photoshop can be used to enhance the images but not alter the content. The submission must include a brief written summary to provide context for the photo story, although the written portion will not be scored.”

Previously, photographers could submit three photos that, for all practical purposes, bore no close thematic relation to each other. (See, for example, the 2015 state champion photos, which depicted, respectively, a young man looking at artwork, a baseball player and a landscape painter.)

“There was an overall feeling among the committee that the photo category wasn’t exactly what they wanted it to be, but also different ideas on what the new direction should be if a change occurred,” said Matt Troha, IHSA administrator in charge of journalism.

“Two of the biggest issues the committee had were that they felt the current model favored photojournalists as opposed to photographers shooting for a yearbook, and there was a consensus that the winning individual was generally chosen based on their best picture, as opposed to the entire body of their work.”

Competitors will remain free to choose what they photograph — that is, they won’t each have to shoot the same thing — but they will have to be cognizant of how their photos relate to one another.

“I think like any major change it will take some time to adjust to the new format for everyone involved, including the participants, advisers and judges,” Troha said. “Our advisory committee has a wealth of knowledge, so I trust their expertise that these changes will help address some of the concerns they had with the previous format. Eastern Illinois University professor Brian Poulter, who moderates the photo category at the state finals, was excited about the change at the state final level, so that speaks volumes to me about the potential.”


Revisions were approved in the terms and conditions governing five other events:

• Info Graphics
The following language was added to the current event description:
“Adobe Creative Suite programs can be used in this event.”

• Newspaper Design
The following language was added to the current event description:
“Adobe Creative Suite programs can be used in this event.”
“Only the elements provided at the contest site may be used.”

• Yearbook Caption Writing
The following italicized language was added to the current event description:
“Captions should be two sentences, but no more than three sentences, and must fit within a caption box provided on the computer program without changing size, font or spacing.”

• Yearbook Layout: Double Page Spread
The following language was added to the current event description:
“Adobe Creative Suite programs can be used in this event.”
“Only the elements provided at the contest site may be used.”

• Yearbook Theme Development
The following italicized language was added to the current event description:
“Entries will be judged on basic design principles, creativity and originality.”

As Troha explained: “Most of the other changes this year were simply cleaning up language or clarifying what programs could or could not be used in the various design categories. Yearbook Caption Writing was a first-year category last year and was tweaked for year two to have a space limit on the caption length.”

In addition, even though the following change in Broadcast News, Feature Writing and News Writing had previously been approved, it’s now being included in the updated terms and conditions for the event:
“Recording devices with headphones are allowed in the press conference.”


Although Troha has worked at IHSA as an assistant executive director since 2008, last year was his first as administrator of the journalism tournament. He succeeded Susie Knoblauch, who had overseen the tournament since its inception in 2005-06.

“It was a whirlwind for me going through it the first time, but I was very happy with how everything turned out,” Troha said. “Sally Renaud and Eastern Illinois University were every bit (and more) the superb state final host I had been told they would be.”

One thing that impressed Troha was the positive energy he saw at the state final awards ceremony.

“I work with the media at most of our sport state finals, so at the end of the day there is usually an awards ceremony with one team celebrating and the other in tears,” he said. “The journalism awards ceremony was invigorating and infectious. I loved the energy and excitement and the genuine shock when students won unexpectedly. I’m sure there was some disappointment and tears mixed in there, but overall it was such a positive environment with everyone rooting each other on.”


As Troha begins his second year with the journalism tournament, he’s hoping to reduce the turnover among sectional host sites.

“We’ve had several long-time sectional hosts, like Northern Illinois University and Southern Illinois University, who provide a first-class experience hosting year after year,” he said. “Illinois State University hosted for the first time last year and had a great experience. They will do so again in 2016, and we hope that they will follow NIU and SIU as annual hosts.

“Most of the other sectional hosts have rotated,” he continued, “which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but getting a more consistent sectional experience at those remaining sites remains a priority. I anticipate at least one first-time host next year, so as we confirm those sites, working to make sure everyone involved has a positive experience will be paramount.”

The 2016 tournament will begin with sectionals at seven host sites on April 23, followed by the state final at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston on April 29.

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