The staff of Staples High School's Inklings newspaper is always ready to respond to breaking news. Whether it's a crucial Board of Education vote, a football rivalry game against Greenwich High School, or even a fire engine being called to the school, it is likely that an update will appear on Inklings' website within minutes.

Last Friday was no different, except that the developing story the Inklings team discovered concerned ... their newspaper. Fortunately, it was an auspicious announcement. The Columbia Scholastic Press Association had just announced that Inklings was a finalist for a 2011 Crown Award in the high school newspaper category.

The Crowns recognize outstanding publications at the middle and high school and collegiate levels. From a field of more than 1,400 newspapers, magazines and yearbooks, Inklings was chosen as one of 51 finalists in the newspaper category for its work during the 2009-10 academic year.

"When I first heard, my mouth just dropped," says Ross Gordon '11, co-managing editor of Inklings. "I was so thrilled that our hard work last year paid off."

Co-Executive Editor Petey Menz '11 had a similar reaction. "It's a vindication of what we've been doing," he says. "It's really gratifying to see us being recognized."

The Inklings website won a Silver Crown Award last year, and the newspaper has also received gold medal awards from the CSPA. But this year marks the first time the newspaper has been selected as a Crown Award finalist for its print edition. Based on judges' marks, Inklings will either receive a Gold or Silver Crown at an awards ceremony to be held next March at Columbia University in New York City.

The award is the product of a true student-run endeavor, says Beth Humphrey, one of the newspaper's teacher advisers. "The students make Inklings exceptional," she says. "They come up with the story ideas, they edit the stories, they come up with creative layout ideas, they take the photos, they sell subscriptions."

Inklings' Crown--arguably the most prestigious award a high school newspaper can win -- also attests to a tireless group work ethic, says Co-Executive Editor Devin Skolnick '11.

"Everyone works so hard," she says of the 50-plus students on the Inklings team. "We stay after school until 5 or 6 o'clock at the earliest. Everyone's always looking for new, interesting stories."

Most of these stories come directly from Staples High School. Keenly aware that the newspaper's target audience is fellow students, Menz says Inklings' members take advantage of their unique perspective.

"We know what the issues are for students," he says. I think we provide the best resource to Staples students to understanding what's going on in Westport."

Connecting with this audience also entails maintaining a robust online presence. Inklings launched a redesigned website in October, which aims to economize space and increase reader engagement through a slideshow of top stories on the homepage of inklingsnews.com.

"We really got more content in less space," says Mike Nussbaum '11, Inklings' co-web managing editor. "I feel that's something we can apply to the newspaper."

Further demonstrating its commitment to digital platforms, the newspaper also launched last month an app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This new Inklings venture was created by Eric Lubin '11, and was even spotlighted as a featured app in the Apples iTunes store.

While the print edition is still integral to Inklings' mission, Skolnick says its website offers more options for delivering news in a timely fashion. Instead of waiting to run a story in the newspaper, which comes out every two to three weeks, Inklings staffers can report news almost instantaneously online.

"I think that online news is definitely the future," she says. "If we wanted to be competitive and serve the town, we needed a website."

Inklings' website also encourages greater interaction with readers, with well-read stories frequently generating thousands of page views.

Sports Editor Julian Clarke '12, for instance, penned a column last year entitled, "I Believe North Dakota Does Not Exist." The piece elicited more than 150 online comments, including many impassioned responses from residents of the Peace Garden State.

But the focus on delivering the news in innovative ways does not distract the Inklings team's commitment to long-standing journalistic principles.

"I think that most people when they get news, they want it in an entertaining fashion," Menz says. "At Inklings, we've tried though to not pander to our audience. We won't dumb down an important issue or complex topic."

Menz followed this credo last year when he reported on the practice of Staples cheerleaders baking items for members of the football team. Although some criticized Menz and co-writer Alex Nitkin for questioning an ostensibly voluntary ritual, Menz says he felt compelled to write the story after some parents expressed concern about possibly sexist undertones of the tradition.

The school subsequently banned cheerleaders from baking for football players, and Menz and Nitkin were recognized for the story with a "Courage in Journalism" award from the Connecticut Academic Press Association.

"That showed me how important journalism can be," Menz says. "We weren't just doing something for our college resume. We were doing something that could have an impact on the community around us."

And having each worked for the newspaper for several years, seniors Menz, Skolnick, Gordon, and Nussbaum say they hope to build on their Inklings experience in the future, such as working for their college newspapers.

"It's been the highlight of my high school career," Nussbaum says. "I feel like it's been such a good experience for me. Why can't it be for the next couple of years and further on?"