New Hope High School students and staff of The New Hope Echo are pictured working on the paper Thursday. From left, Jasmyn Webb, 16, news editor; Thomas Richardson, who teaches the journalism class and manages the newspaper staff; Hunter Brown, 16, life editor and Co-Editors-In-Chief KK Edge, 15, and Allie Russell, 16. Jasmyn is the daughter of Teresa Williams and Tyrell James; Hunter is the son of Kenny Brown and the late Jennifer Harper; KK is the daughter of Kevin and Angie Edge; and Allie is the daughter of Shannon and Justin Willis of New Hope. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
February 15, 2016 9:41:41 AM
When The New Hope Echo, the student newspaper of New Hope High School, started sometime in the 1940s, cultivating the paper took a number of different skill sets.
Kali Harris, who teaches Career Pathway Experience at New Hope, said her grandmother, Nancy Adams Forrester, who was on The Echo staff during that time, remembers typing articles and cutting them with a stencil for publication as "hard work."
The paper continued to be created, painstakingly so, for decades. The last available copies were created in the late 1990s, according to Thomas Richardson, an English teacher at New Hope. However, according to Deborah Holliman, an English teacher at the school, there was an effort to revive it in the mid-2000s, with the last known year of its existence the 2007-08 school year.
Now, Richardson has recently taken on reviving the student voice with a new premise: all that's fit to print will, instead, go online.
Tasked with creating a class that would include the foundations of journalism, Richardson -- who was a sports editor and wrote a column during college days at Millsaps College -- thought creating an actual paper again would be the best option.
"I thought it was a little weird that we didn't have a paper," he said, adding he enjoyed having one when he attended Columbus High School. "I think it was called the Falcon Flyer, and we could get one for 50 cents when they'd bring them around on Fridays."
Richardson also saw an opportunity for students to learn by doing, known in education lingo as "problem-based learning."
"Just in the day-to-day ritual of creating a paper, working towards an end goal: The kind of stuff that they'll use whatever they go into," Richardson said, adding reception towards the paper has been "very positive," with the library even hosting a launch party for the paper's online debut.
It's been a learning experience for Richardson -- who has been teaching the course sans a textbook on print journalism -- in coaching a generation raised on social media in the basics of reporting.
"The first couple of weeks have been sort of a crash course in news writing," he said.
He began by having students bring in some articles of interest, so they could dissect them for "inverted-pyramid structure," the "Five Ws" of journalism (who, what, where, when and why) and other note-worthy stylizations.
One of the biggest issues to overcome was teaching students the importance of not showing bias within their writing, Richardson said.
"When we first started they had a hard time separating what was an article versus what was opinion," he said, adding, for many, their impulse was to add notes of excitement or encouragement. "If we had, say, a sports article, their first instinct was to say, 'We wish them luck,' or something like that, at the end of the article...I had to pull that out of them."
Since the class is small, Richardson said students were able to submit choices for positions within the paper -- such as those reporting, editing or designing the website. He also had them complete practice articles and a grammar quiz prior to assigning them spots.
"I wanted to kind see who worked best for what," he said.
As far as a framework for the site, Richardson said he searched out other high schools with vibrant online newspapers and simple host sites, like Jackson Preparatory School and St. Andrew's Episcopal School. He ended up contracting with the same host used by those schools, and enlisted help from New Hope, which chipped in for monetarily for the site.
The web page had a startup fee of $300, and will cost $300 annually.
Focus on New Hope
Thus far, the class publishes content weekly on Tuesdays. That day, they begin again in preparing for the next week's uploads. It goes like this, said Richardson: Co-Editors-In-Chief KK Edge and Allie Russell write all of the papers sections (news, sports, life, opinions, features and arts) on the white-erase board, and students bounce ideas off of one another. Most ideas come from what is on the school calendar or what is currently "buzzing" around the school's halls and all of the writing is New Hope-focused, Richardson said.
"Even our recent opinion pieces on the deaths of Alan Rickman and David Bowie, both compare the national reception to how things here have been affected," he said.
Wednesdays and Thursdays are devoted to interviewing, writing and picture taking, and Fridays and Mondays are for editing and layout.
Richardson monitors the site for analytics, and decides what shows up on the main page alongside students. When a piece is popular, they might leave it up top for a bit longer, he said. For example, the article, "New high school blueprint finalized," about the Lowndes County School District's approval of a new high school building project for New Hope, has received such honors.
News editor Jasmyn Webb, 16, said she wanted to join the newspaper class as soon as she had the option.
"I'm a big fan of writing -- my mom even complains that I read too much," said Webb, who admits to being a big fan of crime-journalism, especially like that shown on the Investigation Discovery channel, and hopes to one day write for Vanity Fair magazine. "I thought it might be a way to explore my writing further."
She said some things have surprised her in her new role, including: how limited she must be with her words, or how careful she must be in representing the school online.
"In the Twitter world, a lot of people can just post anything, but with this you have to be very, very careful," she said, shaking her head.
Already, however, she said the experience -- especially in her leadership role as news editor-- has changed her.
"It feels good, like I can take on a lot, I have gained a lot of confidence, and can just be me," she said, adding she enjoys having her group of peers aiding her in creating a final product. "It makes me feel like I have a backbone."
Likewise, the Echo's layout and web-editor, 17-year-old Aubrey Beall, who also reports for the paper, said she, too, has grown tremendously through her participation.
"I'm normally really shy, but I'm getting over that," she said, adding the interviewing process has even helped her smooth her speaking voice.
Her favorite story so far? A story on prom proposals, including one involving chicken wings and a note advising the gift of bird was a way to "wing" a first proposal.
For now, Richardson said, basics -- like accuracy -- are key. He said he hopes to eventually have greater enforcement of things like AP style and ethics.
"It's hard because you want to teach deeper journalism... but you don't want to beat kids down," he said, of keeping a peer-friendly atmosphere.
New Hope Principal Matt Smith is ecstatic at The Echo's revival and compliments the students on their creation of a site that feeds all sorts of information needs within the school -- even his.
"I have read each and every word of the first two editions and I learned things," he said. "You would think that I am the most informed person on this campus, but that is not always true. There are a lot of moving parts in a high school this size and it takes an army of people to get everything accomplished."
The future looks bright for The Echo, which Richardson hopes to continue, whether it be as a new course next year, or an extra-curricular activity -- though he said it's too early to determine what will happen next. Smith said he hopes to eventually incorporate a broadcast journalism program as well.
But for students like Webb, the experience has already been invaluable in expanding horizons.
"I'm enjoying interviewing people, just talking with them, and it's a really nice way to get out and see more things," she said, adding she hopes journalism will allow her to travel all over the country. "I really want to go to New York City, for it to take me to places I've never been, to just keep my mind open to all things and to keep learning new things."
Visit newhopeecho.com on Tuesday to read this week's edition of the New Hope Echo.
Sam Luvisi is news editor and covers education for The Dispatch.
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