The Sentinel Konah has won the Pulitzer Prize of Montana high school journalism, and its student editor is the high school journalist of the year.
Justyne McGowan couldn't quite believe the news about her own newspaper or her own achievement when she learned she and the Konah had beaten their Class AA competition across the state.
"I was shocked," said McGowan, a senior. "I wasn't expecting it at all because I was looking at who won it in the past."
Judged by college journalism professors, the annual Montana Journalism Educators Association competition recognizes individual and staff achievement in student journalism, from sports reporting to features to news to public service.
Its Pacesetter Award goes to the best newspaper in the state, judged by submission of two consecutive editions over the year.
The Konah won.
Judges also named McGowan the journalist of the year for her reporting, editing and design skills. Each journalism teacher or adviser is allowed to nominate one person on his or her staff - and English teacher and journalism adviser Jennifer Keinz chose McGowan, who is attending the University of Montana in the fall.
So McGowan sent the MJEA her "clips" - lots of them.
"It was a big box that I sent in," she said. "It looks like a lunchbox."
Many of those clips were of McGowan's layout and page designs for the monthly Konah. But there were a few stories she was particularly proud of this year.
"My most memorable story was one I wrote when the Young Family program was shut down at Sentinel," she said. "I think it meant the most to the people who read it."
McGowan's award as the state's top student journalist has her rethinking her major at UM.
"I was pretty set on psychology, I feel like this gave me the boost of confidence to make me want to pursue newspapers," she said.
Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.