Sterling High School senior Abby Riffel received one of the top honors a high school journalist can earn Feb. 20. She was named Kansas Scholastic Press Association Class 1A/2A Kansas Student Journalist of the Year.
Journalism adviser Todd Vogts announced Riffel’s victory during a school-wide assembly with her family and friends present, and the crowd gave Riffel a standing ovation to congratulate her.
“I was very surprised when I found out that I had won, but extremely proud of myself,” Riffel said. “It was one of my happiest moments when I found out that I had won. I couldn’t believe it. I was not very confident that I would win, just very hopeful. I knew that my work was decent, but I wasn’t sure how it would stand against all of the other student journalists out there.”
Vogts said he found out about Riffel’s win on Feb. 13.
“It was so hard to keep it to myself,” he said. “I wanted to tell her right away because I knew how much it would mean to her, but I had to wait so all the winners in all the categories could be told around the same time. And I wanted to make it special, so that meant waiting until an assembly could be held.”
In order to win the award, Riffel had to submit an essay and create a portfolio of all her journalistic work. This was then submitted to judges, who determined she was the top student journalist in Class 1A/2A.
Preparing the contest entry materials was no small feat.
“It took me about a month to prepare for my portfolio,” Riffel said. “During that month, I had to gather my favorite stories, pictures, and computer graphics from the past four years. Once I had all of those artifacts collected, I had to organize them into a website portfolio that expressed who I am as a student journalist. The application itself involved writing an essay explaining the importance of student journalism, getting three letters of recommendation, and showcasing my portfolio.”
Riffel’s portfolio received high praise for demonstrating her variety of abilities and dedication to journalism.
“Abby has shown strong mastery of virtually every aspect of journalism including writing, editing, photography and multimedia,” the judges wrote. “She has contributed to a wide variety of publications.”
Riffel said she felt the strongest pieces in her portfolio were her examples of writing and computer graphics.
“Writing is something that has been natural for me since I was young, so I felt confident in the stories I had written,” she said. “Computer graphics are an aspect of journalism I’ve learned the most in during high school, and something I have found a talent in.”
Digital media was also something Riffel said she felt strongly about when it came to putting her portfolio together.
“Multimedia is a very important aspect of journalism,” she said. “We live in a day and age where almost all of our news and information is found on the internet, so it’s important for journalists to be able to adapt to that so they can continue their work.”
The judges also lauded Riffel’s leadership abilities.
“Abby has contributed a great deal to the program and her school,” the judges wrote. “She is clearly a strong leader and has a passion for journalism. You can tell she has a passion for what she does. She also does not shy away from being a leader, which is evident in some of the roles she’s had while in high school.”
Riffel’s portfolio can be viewed at https://abbyriffel.weebly.com/.
Vogts said Riffel was his fourth student to earn the JOY designation after Kasady Smith’s 2015 win, Veronica Norez’s 2016 victory and Grace Rowland’s 2019 achievement. He said he was overjoyed about Riffel’s accomplishment.
“It is an incredible honor for her,” Vogts said. “Abby is an incredible young woman and a stellar journalist. She leads our yearbook, The Cub, like a seasoned veteran. She is always positive and happy. Every day she comes into the class with a can-do attitude. She is a joy to work with, so it is fitting she is the JOY this year for 1A and 2A schools. She deserved it. I couldn’t be happier for her and prouder of her.”
Vogts said he also thought it was particularly neat that Riffel’s win occurred so close to the Journalism Education Association’s Scholastic Journalism Week, which runs Feb. 24-28 this year.
“It’s a national week that honors and highlights the work student journalists across the country do,” he said. “I know she didn’t win during the week, but we got to celebrate her achievement on the eve of the official week. I think that’s pretty special.”
Besides receiving a plaque proclaiming her as the winner, Riffel will also receive a check for $750.
“The $750 will go directly into my college fund, so it will help me continue in my path to becoming a journalist,” she said.
Riffel will be attending College of the Ozarks in the fall where she plans to focus on journalistic opportunities.
“I will be majoring in Communication Arts, which will give me a broad education in the many different aspects of journalism,” she said.
After graduating, Riffel said she hopes to pursue a career in the media.
“I plan to get a job in journalism,” she said. “I’m really interested in video journalism, so I would love to end up working at a news station someday.”
Vogts said this was be a perfect fit for Riffel.
“Abby’s personality lends itself perfectly to the world of broadcast news,” he said. “She has the drive and skills to do whatever she wants, and I think it is great she is interested in journalism as her job. It makes winning Journalist of the Year even more fitting for her.”
Riffel said she wants to stay involved with journalism because it means a lot to her.
“Journalism has had an enormous impact on me,” she said. “It taught me to come out of my shell, to seek the truth, and to value the power of words. Journalism naturally became my passion and a part of my life that I would like to pursue for as long as I can.”
That passion was why Riffel said she entered the contest.
“I applied to Journalist of the Year because I was proud of the past four years of my journalism career, and I wanted a chance to showcase my work,” she said. “One of my friends, Grace Rowland, won it the year before, and she inspired me to apply as well. My adviser, Todd Vogts, pushed me to apply also.”
Riffel said she encourages other student journalists to push themselves and aim for success.
“Always strive to do your very best, be passionate about what you do, and enjoy every single moment of it,” she said. “If journalism is something you’re passionate about, pursue it with your whole heart.”