KY Journalist of the Year: Zach Combest

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It’s in the name.

Senior Zach Combest applied for the Journalist of the Year Scholarship and won at state level.

The Journalist of the Year Scholarship is an annual competition for young and thriving journalists to showcase their most honorable achievements during their high school career. Senior Zach Combest was chosen to represent Kentucky in the national portion of this competition. Many friends and family are very proud of all of the hard work he has done during his time as a journalist and his outstanding efforts in his high school publication.

The Journalist of the Year Scholarship is presented by the Journalism Education Association (JEA). This association supports young journalists and their work in their respective publications.

Their website states, “The Journalism Education Association supports free and responsible scholastic journalism by providing resources and educational opportunities, by promoting professionalism, by encouraging and rewarding student excellence and teacher achievement, and by fostering an atmosphere which encompasses diversity yet builds unity.”

The Journalist of the Year Scholarship is held in two levels, offering a scholarship of $3,000 for the overall national winner and an additional $850 to each runner-up. The first level is statewide and the second is national. Once chosen out of the many applicants in the state, students from each respective state are entered to compete against each other for the scholarship.

Students enter an online portfolio of all of their work from their years in journalism. This includes articles, pictures, layouts, broadcasts, videos or a variety of other things that would fit into the contest categories. Combest won at the state level in Kentucky, meaning that his portfolio moved onto the national level.

The digital portfolios are graded in eleven categories: candidate background, news gathering, writing, editing, design, multimedia broadcast, photojournalism, web, law and ethics, leadership and teambuilding, news literacy, entrepreneurship and reflection. The numerous amount of categories were not created to negatively impact a journalist if they did not have adequate information for a particular category. According to JEA, “the rubric was developed to give candidates with any type(s) of experience in student media an opportunity to compete. New categories have been added for candidates to show their versatility.”

Co-executive editor of the Livewire website, Combest, is a hardworking and involved student. He is also a member of SLAM, Beta Club, NHS and president of Quill and Scroll. The administration and faculty also recognized all of his contributions and presented the Heart of Bullitt East award to Combest at the end of the fall semester.

Combest furthered his involvement in school his sophomore year, when he joined the Livewire staff. “I think… he’s just extremely dedicated. He really has a passion for what he does and he really wants to be the best at it. His work ethic really sets him apart from most high schoolers in general. He looks at things a little bit differently than most people and that really pushes into being the best that he can be,” said Larry Steinmetz, journalism advisor and Kentucky State Director.

Accumulating many articles, pictures and videos over his three years in the publication, Combest decided to put together all of his work into his digital online portfolio and submit it to the state level competition of the Journalist of the Year Scholarship contest. “It showcases a lot of different things. It showcases my involvement around our school and community, but also it showcases my growth over three years. I put some of my articles on there from my sophomore year and compared them to my senior year work, which was totally different, so it was cool to show my growth over the years,” said Combest.

Soon after he submitted his website, results were in and Combest found out he was selected as the Kentucky winner. “I was surprised and… speechless. It is a cool thing to be recognized for that, especially to beat other schools in the state like DuPont Manual, they’re a great journalism school,” said Combest.

While he did not win the national scholarship, being named the Kentucky Journalist of the Year is an enormous achievement. “This may sound a little cheesy, but it kind of means the world to me. It was a very humbling thing to get. Going into it, when I started the website I thought ‘man this is so much work, it’s going to be hard to get, there’s going to be tons of people going for it’, but then to be announced the winner, I was really honored to get it. To see that they enjoyed my work and that I’ve shown great skills over the years is a really awesome thing.”

This was the first application for Kentucky Journalist of the Year to come from Bullitt East. “Zach is the first entry that we had so I was excited. I was really impressed when I saw his portfolio because he pretty much did that on his own. I haven’t gone through the process yet so I didn’t have a ton of feedback to give. It’s my first year as state director so I didn’t know what to expect but when I saw his, I was really impressed with not only the end product, but being able to see some of the amazing things he’s accomplished in his time here,” said Steinmetz.

Combest’s friends and families are very proud of all of his hard work and his accomplishments. “Personally I wasn’t surprised, Zach is one of the best journalists I’ve ever worked with. As someone who was a part of the Livewire, it made me extremely proud to see someone from our publication win the award and I really think it shows the quality of our magazine,” said Bullitt East alum and former staffer on the Livewire, Derek Rogers. “He’s very good at allocating his own time to help others for the overall betterment of the magazine. He’s also very knowledgeable about journalism and writing so he has a very good perspective.”

As the current journalists in the junior class move up into their senior year, Combest advises them and future seniors to apply for the scholarship. “Definitely, if you can, try to get all of the categories and really focus on putting examples. That’s one of the things the judges told me in my feedback, was that they wish they saw more examples. So that’s definitely a big thing, if you can scan your magazine articles and have your website articles on there. Also, work on your photography skills with the angles and stuff, I know a lot of judges said that as well. In sporting events or school activities, find different things to take pictures of. With video, work on your video skills with cameras and lighting.”

Combest will be continuing his educational career at Eastern Kentucky University and while he  isn’t sure if he will write for their newspaper, he will keep it in mind.

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