Cardinal Nation Turns One: A Year in Review

What is the State of Cardinal Nation? Columnist Zach Payne takes stock of the newspaper one year on


Zach Payne, Contributor

Today marks the one year anniversary of the launch of Cardinal Nation — Mentor High School’s new student newspaper. 

Although Mentor has had a newspaper through The Mentor Log decades ago and The Inkwell ran for thirty years in print and then online, Mentor High students worked hard to revive student journalism in the building with a more vibrant website. Together, the Cardinal Nation staff and contributing students wrote nearly 200 articles, covering everything from school sporting events to national political debates.

Over the past year, there have been many notable articles published in Cardinal Nation. Last May, Juliana Gunvalsen’s four-part series “The Fight Over Education in Ohio” discussed the political discourse over the direction of education in Ohio, and featured interviews with local and state leaders. This theme of covering politics and their impact on Mentor High continued with her article published in September, “What’s in a pronoun? Depends on who you ask – and how”, which examined the debate over pronoun usage in schools and its implications for Mentor.

Members of the Cardinal Nation staff with Mr. Heath.

Staff from Cardinal Nation attended and covered important events in our city and district, including the State of the City address and the State of the Schools address that talked about the future of our city and school district.

Cardinal Nation also covered national and international political issues, with Sarah Blakemore discussing the Ukraine war in her article “The War in Ukraine as Seen From Mentor, Ohio”, and the 2022 midterm election in “Elections, Elections – Who Even Are These Candidates?”.

Mentor bathrooms
Chris Knutson reported on the closed restroom phenomenon puzzling students (Christopher Knutson)

Contemporary school issues were also a widely reported topic, with one notable example being Chris Knutson’s story “School Restrooms: Why Are They Always Closed?”, which has proven itself to be an enduring hit among students. Doug Slovenkay and Quinn Fuerst published a series of articles on the lockdown that occurred at Mentor High in December, exploring the safety procedures of the building.

Sarah Blakemore becoming lost while reporting on the big game

Cardinal Nation wrote many articles on the athletic activities of Mentor High this year. In her article “Mentor Wins Instant Classic Home Playoff Game”, Sarah Blakemore did her best to comment on a Mentor High football game, providing bits of key analysis such as “Apparently, the other team scored a touchdown, which is apparently bad for us.” And let us not forget Andrew Freeman’s contribution to the athletics section with his unprecedented article “Cardinals Football Team Accidentally Slotted to Face a Team of Literal Grizzly Bears”.

The 2023 Mentor High School Athletic Hall of Fame was also a widely covered event, with Quinn Fuerst giving an overview of the 2023 Hall of Fame Inductees. Cardinal Nation staff was also able to interview some notable MHS athletic alumni, including Juliana Gunvalsen’s interview with Mitchell Trubisky and Maddie Grice’s interview with Bob Hallen.

The MHS Science Olympiad Team—One of many teams to advance to a state competition

Outside of athletics, many Mentor High students had accomplishments which were covered in Cardinal Nation. Marketing & Business, Speech and Debate, and Science Olympiad students all reached state competitions for their respective fields. Sarah Blakemore covered the success of Model UN delegates in Chicago and Cleveland, and Mentor High’s own Model UN conference.

In Cardinal Nation’s arts section, Brian Mignogna contributed in-depth music reviews to the paper, covering the likes of Pink Floyd, Paramore, and The Beatles. From the ending of the 2022 season, to the opening of the 99th season of Mentor Theatre this Fall, Doug Slovenkay gave insight into the shows performed over the past year

The Cardinal Nation time capsule search time claims their prize (Mr. Crowe)

Cardinal Nation also touched on Mentor High history, with the “From the Archives” series publishing articles from The Mentor Log, Mentor High’s school newspaper in the 1970’s. Loren Wandersleben and Justus Maruschke also covered the widely unknown Mentor High time capsule, including a poem to guide readers to the hidden location. Many MHS alumni were also profiled by Cardinal Nation, such as Andrew Freeman’s profile of Kevin Kleber, a U.S. Army Special Operations Officer.

All of the 196 stories published contributed to the impact that Cardinal Nation has had over the past 365 days. The articles Cardinal Nation produced informed students and community members about local and national events, highlighted the accomplishments of both present and former MHS students, and gave students a voice and platform they previously did not have. But exactly how safe is this newly found outlet for students, and what does the future of it hold?

A photo taken from the Mentor Log archive, the ancestor of Cardinal Nation (Mr. Steve Couch)

The State of School Newspapers

Over the past few years, school newspapers at high schools and universities have come under increasing attack by school administration and community members, placing their role as an outlet for student voices in jeopardy.

For example, just as Cardinal Nation was publishing its own articles on LGBTQ+ topics, the school newspaper of Northwest High School in Nebraska was shut down by district administration after covering LGBTQ-focused issues. While the newspaper has since been brought back in a digital form, the Northwest Public School district is currently facing a federal lawsuit related to the matter.

Another example occurred in Illinois, with Naperville Central High School administration censoring and removing a newspaper edition containing a story about the classroom disruptions caused by special needs students.

While freedom of press is covered by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, student newspapers do not fall under these same constitutional protections. In the Supreme Court case Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier, which was caused by conflict over the censorship of school newspaper articles regarding divorce and teen pregnancy, the Court ruled that school districts do retain the right to limit student speech. Associate Justice Byron White wrote that “A school need not tolerate student speech that is inconsistent with its basic educational mission”.

An overview of student journalism protection in the United States (New Voices)

While this Supreme Court ruling does leave school newspapers susceptible to district censorship, some states have taken action to protect student journalists. The nonpartisan “New Voices” organization, led by student activists, has helped successfully pass legislation in 17 states that counteract Hazelwood v. Kuhlmeier and provide protection for student journalists. Just last month, West Virginia passed legislation guided by these efforts. Ohio, joined by many neighboring states, currently does not have any legislation that protects student journalism in this manner.

This lack of legal protection leaves the fate of many school newspapers directly to school administration. Cardinal Nation reached out to Mentor Superintendent Mr. Craig Heath regarding Mentor Public Schools commitment to protecting and promoting student journalism. He responded with the following statement:

“Because our student newspaper was not in operation for many years, there are some outdated Board policies in place in regards to student publications.  We are in the process of shifting all of our Board policies to those used by NEOLA.  Oue Board is committed to taking a close look at the policy language focused on student publications to make sure it aligns with current school law and meets the needs of the students in our district.  We will also look closely at our current practices and compare those to other high performing school districts around the state of Ohio to ensure we are meeting the same standards for student journalism as they are.  By having these sound policies and guidelines in place, we will be able to grow our program in the proper ways in the future.”

Cardinal Nation also asked about his views on the role that student journalism has within our district and community.

“I believe Cardinal Nation captures the student voice in the way the articles are written about the major topics of the day,” Mr. Heath told us. “This is an important role as it shows what areas of the school community our students have interests in and how they are sharing the facts of the stories they cover.”

The Future of Cardinal Nation

Now that we have reflected on the past year of Cardinal Nation, and the overall state of student journalism across the nation, it is time to look at what the future holds for Cardinal Nation.

As was mentioned by Superintendent Heath, the district hopes to review and possibly revise specific board policies regarding student publications. When these are finalized and formally adopted, Cardinal Nation will have a clearer vision of the parameters of stories it can run, and may expand to include op-ed pieces.

Other forms of reporting, including video series such as Sarah Blakemore and Loren Wandersleben’s Cardinal Cast, are mediums that Cardinal Nation staff is looking to further explore.

As Cardinal Nation steadily establishes itself as an institution within Mentor High School, covering a wider variety of student activities and accomplishments is always a goal. In addition, Cardinal Nation staff is eager to continue reporting on the political issues which directly affect the students of MHS. Cardinal Nation has now published an article every school day in 2023. That is a habit which Cardinal Nation hopes to maintain.

All the content published on Cardinal Nation is only made possible because of student contributions. If you are a student of Mentor High and wish to cover sporting events, investigate the oddities of MHS, write satirical articles, promote your club’s success, or report on anything else you might be interested in, Cardinal Nation is the perfect opportunity for you. The club currently meets in F102 after school on Fridays. If you are unable to make the meetings, Cardinal Nation is open to publishing articles from any student, and you can contact the newspaper advisor Mr. Couch.