By Carol Stark
JOPLIN, Mo. —
They are caught somewhere between an institution and a digital reality. Short-staffed at best, their operations can’t approve overtime, mileage expenses or equipment purchases. They often dig into their own pockets for the pizza.
And they avoid playing political hot potato at all costs.
Welcome to the world of high-school newspaper advisers. They are my heroes.
Some have journalism degrees, English degrees or business degrees. One even has an agriculture degree. Often, they are the first to motivate would-be journalists, or perhaps the first to suggest they look into another career field.
During the past week, I had the opportunity to meet with 12 advisers for high school newspapers and yearbooks when The Joplin Globe held its 24th annual high school journalism workshop.
While students attended small-group sessions learning the ins and outs of newspaper design, online storytelling, news writing and editorial writing, the teachers eagerly compared notes.
I quickly learned that these educators put up an enormous amount of effort for the privilege of putting out a school newspaper.
Wow, was I humbled when I heard one teacher describe her efforts to “recruit” students for her news writing course. As electives go, news writing gets a reputation, she says, for being difficult and fraught with deadlines.
“Students think they have more appealing choices,” she said.
And some of these educators know that if they decide to walk away from the class, there might not be anyone there to take their place. That’s why in some high schools, student newspapers have gone by the wayside. Without a champion in place, aspiring young journalists lose out.
On one hand, I paint a gloomy picture.
But on the other, I am buoyed by the talented students I met. I have no doubt that many of them will move on from their student newspaper to a university newspaper and then to whatever the newspaper industry becomes in the next 10 years.
One student editor excitedly told me about her plans for the next edition. She and her staff will be tackling gun control, and a debate was already brewing among her table mates.
Another described to the group a news story about the message clothing sends. It was an interesting look at the tightrope students have to walk when it comes to dress code.
In all, 56 students attended. Among their comments at the end of the day:
“I want to learn to write a better article — and how to get people to read it.”
“I have gained a lot of knowledge — not just for our newspaper, but even for myself.”
And sadly, “We have no free speech in our newspaper.”
That student is correct. Principals and superintendents can kill a story quicker than it can be developed if they choose. I like to think that as part of the learning process, administrators encourage students to dig for the truth, even if it’s not always complimentary.
I used the “Spider Man” line in my welcome to the student journalist: “With great power comes great responsibility.”
After all, Peter Parker was a student journalist long before he ever became a superhero. Who’s to say which one really has the most power?
Good luck to staffs of all the Spyglasses, Tiger Tales and Ragouts of our area.
Carol Stark is editor of The Joplin Globe. Address correspondence to her, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Carol Stark on Twitter @carolstark30.