Senior Julia Landy earns the title of 2023 Todd C. Smith Student Journalist of the Year


Senior Julia Landy is the FSPA Journalist of the Year, the highest distinction a student journalist can achieve in high school. She is also recognized as a Finalist for JEA Journalist of the Year. Photo courtesy of Julia Landy

Ivy Lam, Senior Feature Editor

With a radiant smile on her face and a Powerpoint presentation on the Recordex board, one student guides her fellow journalism students through the basics of InDesign and Photoshop weeks before their certification tests. Armed with a resonating voice and a passion for newspaper, she leads the class in weekly teaching seminars.

Senior Julia Landy has been an active member and officer of EagleEye, the renowned student news publication of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, for the past three years. On Thursday, March 2, she was announced as the Todd C. Smith Journalist of the Year, an honor bestowed upon her by the Florida Student Press Association (FSPA).

“In the days leading up to the announcement of the Florida Journalist of the Year, I was very nervous. When I began the application process, I had a high level of confidence, but as the announcement day grew closer, that confidence dwindled away,” Landy said. “I was refreshing my feed as FSPA sent out a series of Tweets; I handed my phone to [another staffer] Anna because I was just too scared to check, but after a minute, I saw her smile and heard [my advisor Melissa] Falkowski say ‘Congratulations Julia Landy on becoming the 2023 Florida Journalist of the Year.’”

After the announcement, Landy immediately felt relief. Although she was happy to have won, she went back to the newsroom to work to prepare her portfolio for national competition. Landy’s work ethic has been acknowledged and commended by Falkowski.

“I was really excited for Julia because she is worthy of the recognition. She has worked very hard and achieved a lot in scholastic journalism over the last three years,” Falkowski said. “This was the first time MSD had a first place finisher, which is a big deal.”

The selection process for Journalist of the Year begins at the state level. Each participating state has a different organization that arranges journalist of the year competitions, hosted by the Journalism Education Association (JEA) and the National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA). For Florida, there is a detailed rubric of 11 categories, which are each graded on a 7-point scale with the opportunity to earn three bonus points. The same rubric is used for other states and nationals.

“Whoever gets the most points in the state winner and the representative for nationals,” Landy said. “We then get a week or so to edit our portfolios based on judges’ feedback before sending it off to JEA to be regraded.”

Each applicant creates a portfolio, writes a personal narrative about their scholastic journalism achievement, attaches a resume, sends a transcript or counselor statement, takes an action photo and collects up to three letters of recommendation. The application is then submitted to FSPA to be judged and evaluated.

“As the Florida Journalist of the Year, I was sent to represent Florida student journalism on the national level by entering JEA’s nationwide competition,” Landy said. “My greatest strengths [from my portfolio] are my design and my ‘Editing, Leadership and Team Building’ section.”

Landy’s design section showcased a wide variety of layouts that she had made over the past three years as well as infographics, illustrations, editorial cartoons and advertisements. In the leadership section, she highlighted video tutorials she had made for her staffers and images of her mentoring students. Additionally, she included before-and-after pictures of designs and projects.

“My goal is to help train staffers to be well-rounded journalists. I want to leave The Eagle Eye knowing that I have been able to make structural improvements to the program as well as having taught and inspired the staff to learn more,” Landy said.

Landy believes building her portfolio was a challenging process, particularly having to deal with the idea of not winning. However, she endured and won the Journalist of the Year title for Florida. With such a distinction, she flew to San Francisco, California with other newspaper staffers to attend the JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention where she earned Finalist status for National High School Journalist of the Year and a $1,000 scholarship.

“Creating this portfolio required me to learn a lot of new skills,” Landy said. “While I had knowledge of video editing and photo composition, I had to learn more about social media, branding and audience engagement, but none of that was difficult. I enjoyed every step of it because really it was a valuable experience.”

Landy’s favorite part about being a student journalist is being able to teach other students new skills. For the past two years, she led Photoshop reviews, made instructional videos and created assignments for rising journalists. She believes the experience as a whole was fulfilling.

Outside of school and journalism, Landy works 20-30 hours a week at her part-time job and completes work for her internship. After graduating, she will attend the Honors College at the University of Central Florida for Emerging Media on the graphic design track. She also plans to minor in Human Communications with the intent to boost news literacy and work with informational sources to aid in alleviating political bias and misinformation in the media.