Student newspapers remain popular in a digital age

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2013 7:12 a.m. CDT
(Sandy Bressner –
X-Ray entertainment section co-editor Mary Halm (center) talks with her staff during a meeting at the student-run newspaper's headquarters at St. Charles East High School.

Nick Boose, editor-in-chief of the Kaneland Krier, paused for a second as he worked on a large-screen computer, the room filled with editors going over content for an upcoming issue.

In another room, the staff's reporters huddled around computers. Some were brainstorming; others were putting finishing touches on their stories. Boose, a junior from Sugar Grove, said he knows classmates are reading the product.

"They point out our mistakes," he said.

If a younger generation is getting the majority of its news from social media and online sources, there are at least some who embrace the newspaper experience. At Kaneland, dozens of students filled the two rooms during the time periods devoted to working on the Krier. At St. Charles East High School, adviser Laura Smith said more than 50 students are participating in the X-Ray, that school's student publication.

Smith, who has been the adviser of the St. Charles East newspaper since 1994, said this year's group is one of the largest she has had in a long time. She said it's surprising, because "so few of these kids even get a newspaper delivered to their home." She said students sometimes show up with no awareness at all about a newspaper.

"Ten years ago, kids came in, and you had an assumption that they knew what a headline was," she said, adding that "literally, you have kids coming out for the newspaper, and they've never seen the way a newspaper is even laid out in print."

But, she said, they are coming and enjoying the experience. And she said it's surprising that they want very much to hold the newspaper in their hands. She said students take great pride in handing out the papers to classmates.

At Kaneland, Boose said it "brings a smile to my face" when he sees students looking over the finished product. Boose has enjoyed the experience enough that he wants to be a high school journalism teacher.

Students at Kaneland said the experience has been beneficial. Michelle McCracken, a junior from Sugar Grove, is the executive editor-in-chief of the Krier's web product. She said she would recommend the experience, saying she has improved in English and writing classes. She said those skills come "so easily now" after writing so many stories. Felicia Steik, a senior who is the executive ads and business manager, said she now can "crank out a paper really fast."

Randy Swikle, who has been a newspaper adviser at Johnsburg High School, said those benefits have helped draw today's students to student journalism. Swikle is a member of the Illinois Press Foundation and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association boards. In the classroom, he said, he could tell which students had taken journalism "just by the questions they would ask." He said the skills they acquire would be helpful in any occupation, and there also is the opportunity to make a meaningful impact.

"Scholastic journalism influences decision-makers," Swikle said, adding that students can learn to be more discriminant readers and recognize the most important information.

"It's part of what journalism does – provide analytical skills and research skills. … How do you go about getting information? This is more than the kind of research you are going to get from going to a library. In journalism, much of your research has to be original. You have to get to the source and ask great questions so you can get a great story."

At St. Charles East, Smith said that is the real eye-opener – some students get nervous when they learn they have to conduct interviews.

"I think that when they do stick with it, they're going to get a really great experience," Smith said, adding that sometimes "they come in, and they want to make up horoscopes, and unless you are some kind of astrologer and you want to make charts, no."

Those who stay, she said, can improve their research skills and have a positive experience.

Kaneland Krier adviser Kim Reese credited her predecessor, Laurie Erdmann, with doing much to help the organization at her school. Reese said students typically will come up with story ideas that are relevant to fellow students. Last week, students were working on stories about self-taken photos or "selfies," and bus safety. She said administrators have been helpful and supportive.

"It's an outstanding program," she said.

Students said they have enjoyed it. Maddy McDermot, a sophomore from Elburn, said "it's been better than I thought it would be. We're like a big family in here."

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