We cover the August suicide of recent graduate Kira Harrison. Kira was my student in yearbook for two years and I felt I knew her pretty well. When the newspaper had a story on hazing within the cheerleading squad two years ago, Kira was my direct link to the rest of the cheerleaders. Her kindness for the hazing victim was balanced against her allegiance to her team. Kira weathered it with maturity and poise and most of all kindness. She was a bright, shining light and I feel her loss personally. And now her picture is under the headline “Community mourns loss.”
Next to the article about Kira is a first-person essay by Abby Wei, one of the editors-in-chief. When we learned of another suicide attempt last Friday, the staff has to decide how to cover it. Abby was so distressed she had to leave school. Her essay is about how awful it is for those left behind by a suicide, and it’s an urgent plea to those suffering to stop and make a better choice, and to the rest of us to be kinder and gentler with our words. It’s an important message, but one teenagers, and people In general, seem to need to be told again and again.
Turn to page two and there’s another “Community mourns death” headline. This one is for a recent graduate of a local private school who had many ties to the Wootton community. He died in a small place crash his first week at college. Another young life wasted.
The summer national news wrap-up holds no better news: Ebola, ISIS, Robin Williams. Death must be growing weary.
The Arts page focuses on Yik-Yak, a new social media app that works sort of like twitter, but posts are anonymous. Sounds awesome right? Even the teenagers see the danger. But they’re also fascinated by it.
The staff also missed their deadlines. One of the pages had to be dropped on the master document unedited by me. That scares me. Missing deadlines is pretty typical for a first issue, as the staff is adjusting to their new roles on the newspaper and their news classes and activities. The seniors are overwhelmed with college applications and leadership roles on their sports teams. The juniors have so much homework their eyes bleed. Even though missing that first deadline is typical, it still frustrates me. Several editors (two news, one sports) left before their pages were completed. Other editors had to step in and cover for them. This results in a trickle-down effect that makes finishing on time almost impossible. The end result was the EIC’s didn’t get to do a final read of headlines and captions. And one of the headlines has a major typo in it. Earning the respect of our readers is tough when we can’t spell correctly.
Which is why we have post-mortem. The day after the paper comes out we meet as a group and go through every detail of the paper. It’s one of my favorite days with the newspaper staff. Seeing them praise each other, critique each other, and vow to do better next time fills me with pride. After all, it’s the process that matters. All of my students will go on to much bigger accomplishments that this high school paper. Being a part of the process that gets them there is an honor and I don’t take it lightly. In fact, it weighs on me.
When I feel overwhelmed, I remind myself to count my blessings. This first issue is full of blessings. The staff writers (everyone) are now required to take a 30-60 second video interview, which is posted to our woottonnews.com site with the text of the article. We watched the first batch of these in class together today. The videos add so much to the articles and will not only attract eyeballs but also let the staff use skills they’re going to need in any realm of journalism.
More blessings: we have one of the best editorial cartoonists I’ve ever seen, Lily Zhang; the Features pages are gorgeous; the double-truck, which we call Commons, is about news teachers and covers the information in a fresh and readable way; and the staff as a whole is dedicated and smart and hard-working. And growing. At this time last year I had 18 students in newspaper and 28 in Intro to Journalism. This year I have 28 newspaper students and 32 in Intro. I’m certain this growth is due to the strong publication we produce. Others want to be a part of it. I know I do.