- Originally presented as my project for MJE certification, this article about starting a newspaper ran in Adviser Update, The Dow Jones News Funds' newspaper in the Fall 2009.
Daunting. Overwhelming. Hectic. Crazy. These are perhaps the first words that come to mind when asked to advise or teach newspaper, the seemingly dying branch of scholastic journalism, to budding high school reporters. It’s time consuming and sometimes demotivating but completely worthwhile despite the growing discussion of convergence and the expiration of many major professional newspapers.
Despite this grim reality, there is something completely gratifying about teaching students how to write well, design eye catching pages, work as a team and then the pride involved with sharing a newspaper (regardless of the ink latent fingertips) for an authentic audience.
When I arrived at World Journalism Preparatory School, it was evident that this school was not like other schools I had taught at before. It had only been open for one year prior to my arrival and already it had a reputation for greatness that was unsurpassed by other places. The teachers enjoyed working there and the administration was remarkably supportive. It was the best case scenario for starting a newspaper: open press, no prior review and complete student responsibility and ownership. I was told right away that I was there to help them grow as journalists, not to do it for them. (Honestly it was a relief because the last school I had taught in was literally the complete opposite… principal had to see every issue before it went out and the kids couldn’t say anything that was even slightly off putting about the school. It was stifling to say the least.) Where to begin, though? I spun my wheels for a little bit taking what I know about writing for and running a paper and trying to translate it into a class that would produce a paper.
The First Try – our biggest failures are often the impetus for our greatest successes
Things didn’t start off as well as I had hoped they would. Getting the students to write was a challenge despite the fact that they attended a school that centers itself around writing. Breaking them out of the mold they were accustomed to writing in was the next challenge and then teaching them InDesign was surely going to lead me to early retirement. My first year was a bit of a learning experience for everyone. We were able to get out three issues, none longer than eight pages and although there was improvement, there was still much work to be done.