Senior Justin Curto honored with KSPA Student Journalist of the Year award

Administrators, family, fellow student journalists among others gathered to celebrate Curto's achievement

Elizabeth Fleming, assistant Mill Valley News editor

While surrounded by his cheering fellow student journalists and adviser, a surprised senior Justin Curto won the overall KSPA Student Journalist of the Year award from the Kansas Scholastic Press Association, presented by KSPA executive director Eric Thomas on Friday, Feb. 19.

The award is given to what a committee of judges deem to be the best high school student journalist based on an online portfolio the student puts together. With the honor of being the Kansas Student Journalist of the Year, Curto will now represent the state in National Student Journalist of the Year competition sponsored by the Journalism Education Association. Results for that contest will be announced in April.

“[KSPA Journalist of the Year award] represents some of the best work in the state, and I think in journalism everyone knows Kansas has some of the strongest journalism in the nation,” journalism adviser Kathy Habiger said. “To say you’re at the top of a state that’s already doing such great work, that’s really neat to say.”

The portfolio categories ranged from Photojournalism and Writing to Multimedia Broadcast and represented three years worth of Curto’s work and  took around 50 hours to compile. According to Curto, the award came as a surprise.

“I’ve been creating content that I’ve put in my portfolio since sophomore year and how I have work from all three years as a journalist,” Curto said. “I was like ‘wow’ all of these people appreciate my work and they think it’s good and they see potential in me. Hearing the things the judges said was crazy to think about it.”

The judges of the portfolio submissions look for many things including multimedia and thorough reporting, according to Thomas.

“[Justin] loves working with so many different kinds of media. That’s a hard thing for people to do well enough that they can put that work in their portfolio, let alone just do the work,” Thomas said. “The other thing is his in-depth reporting, whether it be about music or school board matters. [The judges] don’t want someone who just does what’s assigned to them, they want someone who goes after a story until they’ve reported it completely.”

As a former high school teacher, Thomas has an appreciation for the award and what it means to the students it is awarded to.

“My favorite part about this job are days like today where you get to award kids who have worked really really hard,” Thomas said. “As a former high school teacher, it’s great to be on the other side of it and get to be a part of a ceremony like this and get to surprise him and have all of the kids around.”

Throughout his three years of high school student journalism, Curto has been full of new ideas and new ways to do things, according to Habiger. Curto is the second Mill Valley student to win the KSPA Student Journalist of the Year award. Mill Valley alumn and 2012 National Student Journalist of the Year award runner-up Sarah Darby first won the award.

“Justin always was super curious and super enthusiastic about any new thing he could learn and I think that struck me as the coolest thing about him early on,” Habiger said. “He has always been a kid I’ve had to keep up with. It was great as a teacher to have a kid like that, that pushed me to learn new things to help him.”

The support from his fellow student journalists, as well as his adviser, has helped Curto in his journalistic career and helps him with his positions on the JagWire and Mill Valley News Online.

“It’s been great to have an adviser that has been so supportive of me and she was the one who initially brought up the idea of me applying for it,” Curto said. “Having someone to bounce ideas off of and someone I can randomly text over the weekend like ‘hey what do you think about this’ is great.”

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