It wasn't long after Wayne Seitz took over the journalism program at Hellgate High School that he discovered the news.

"I found out about 23 or 24 years ago that being the super editor doesn't work," said the longtime teacher and leader of the Hellgate Lance. "My story ideas were crap. Theirs were great."

Since then, Seitz has largely let his teenage newspaper staff do things on their own, publishing the 1,500-circulation newspaper with only slight direction from their teacher.

So what does Seitz do for the staff at the biweekly Lance?

"Oh, prod," he said. "And bellyache."

It's a strategy that's paid off for the Hellgate Lance, the state's most decorated newspaper and the recent first-place winner of the American Scholastic Press Association award.

The Lance was one of 75 newspapers in its classification to enter the competition, which is judged by professional journalists. The staff learned of the award three weeks ago.

It adds to a long list of Lance recognitions over the course of Seitz's 36 years at Hellgate High School.

Known for its sometimes edgy and occasionally controversial content, the Lance is the only newspaper in the state from a AA high school to publish an edition once every two weeks. All others publish once a month.

*****

On Monday, editor-in-chief Hailey Michelson was busy doing her own prodding and bellyaching, putting the screws to her staff of 30 as they prepare the stories, photos, headlines, presentation and layout of the 16th issue - the third to last of the year.

"Soft copies are due today," she said to the class, which is an elective at Hellgate. "Hard copies are due tomorrow."

Deadlines. Journalists know them well, and editors know that journalists thrive on their immediacy.

Maybe that's why, said Michelson, "they usually work on stories two days before they're due."

As in other years, some of the stories this year have been weighty.

Here are a few headlines from the previous 15 issues:

"Many resources available for pregnant teens."

"Memorial pays tribute to girls killed by drunk driver."

"State education cuts leave MCPS desperate."

Nothing the Lance has printed this year has been overly controversial, but a column this year by content editor Liz Crockett did stir some heated debate.

Herself a pregnant senior, Crockett wrote an opinion piece on abortion from a pro-life perspective - at a school known for a student body with largely liberal opinions.

"Then we got a letter from a girl who had actually had an abortion," said Crockett. "That was kind of a hard thing."

After a lot of internal debate, the Lance staff decided to print the girl's letter. And a host of others that challenged Crockett's opinion.

That kind of debate is welcomed by the Hellgate Lance staff.

"Our editorial staff does a good job," said Crockett, "but the best is when we get all these fiery letters to the editor."

The ASPA competition is based on entries of three consecutive newspaper editions from student newspapers across the country.

Judges awarded the Lance 930 points out of a possible 1,000, including 350 of 350 for content, and 120 of 120 for art and illustrations.

Reach reporter Jamie Kelly at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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