Two Pulitzer prize winners. Three National High School Journalists of the Year. And dozens and dozens of honorees through the National Scholastic Press Association. They can all point to one common factor: They learned the ins and outs of journalism from SM East adviser C. Dow Tate.
Tate has taught high school journalism for 32 years and has been at SM East since August 2002. But he’s certainly not tired of it.
“They’ll energize you,” Tate said of his students. “They allow me to push them, and they respond to it, and they excel. My energy’s up because theirs is.”
Tate grew up in a journalism-centered home — his father was a pressman for The Dallas Morning News in Texas, and his mother worked a Linotype machine. He started selling newspapers at age 5, got his first reporting gig at age 13 for the Ferris Wheel in Ferris, Texas.
He fell in love with journalism, teaching, and his wife, Becky (the journalism adviser at SM North), all in the span of a few years. Their daughter, Morgan, is a freshman at SM Northwest.
At SM East, he advises about 160 students in the program, which produces The Harbinger, a 32-page newspaper, every two weeks (plus The Harbinger Online, the paper’s website updated almost daily) as well as Hauberk, the school’s 500+ page yearbook.
Historically, the publications wrack up dozens of awards each year. The Harbinger took home another Pacemaker (only 19 publications nationwide are given this award), and dozens of SM East student-journalists took home top marks for their work in both publications at The Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association Fall National High School Journalism Convention last month.
This year’s convention marked the first time that both The Harbinger and Hauberk have received Best in Show.
Tate is quick to credit his students’ work and motivation for the long list of honors.
“You’re not going to see me writing the stories, designing the pages,” Tate said. “It’s them doing the work. Because of that, they invest themselves in it. It’s their work, their thoughts, their emotions. That’s what’s driven it over the years.”
Two of Tate’s students have gone on to win Pulitzer prizes for their work: Paige Cornwell and her co-workers at The Seattle Times, and Laura Nelson and her co-workers at the Los Angeles Times. And he’s had three students win National High School Journalist of the Year by the Journalism Education Association.
Some of his students aspire for those same goals someday. Lila Tulp, a staff editor and senior who just won reporting and design honors for her work last year, said the culture of excellence drives her to work hard, learn new things and continue the program’s award-winning legacy.
“We all take our work and our awards very seriously, and we’re all really excited about them, but it just pushes people even further to keep trying for those,” Tulp said. “I’m challenged every day. I’m never going to know everything, but I find myself learning from our sophomores that come on staff.”
Tate said he wants his students to appreciate accolades when they’ve earned it. At the same time, he’s trying to help them build their resumes.
“You’re always just trying to make these kids marketable,” he said. “They could tell you what drives it, but I would guess some of them would say they don’t want to let anyone else down. They understand that those expectations are there, and they’re that high.”