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Love of Writing, Getting the Scoop, Sparks Student Newspaper

It’s deadline day at Hawk Nation. The staff of the Cedar Springs High School newspaper are hunched over computers, putting final touches on their stories for the next issue. And Hailey Vinton needs help with a headline.

“It needs to be more engaging,” teacher Mary Beth Hills tells her. “Catchy. Exciting.” Then she calls out to the class, “Everybody, Hailey needs help with a headline, about softball!”

Nathan Johnson obliges, helping Hailey think of a catchier title for her profile of pitcher Josi Whipple. She changes it from “Softball is Here” to “The Perfect Pitch.”

Hailey is satisfied with the change, having interviewed Josi, her coach and a teacher for the story. “I like journalism,” the sophomore says. “I like writing.”

So do many of the other 20 students who publish one of the few remaining high school newspapers in Kent County. They enjoy not only interviewing people and writing up their stories, but putting out a newspaper at a time when printed papers are in steep decline.

“People don’t pick up the paper anymore,” laments Tamara Tiethoff, Hawk Nation’s editor-in-chief and a senior. “Everything’s on social media. But it’s nice to have the written copy. It’s just kind of nice to put out the paper and go, ‘We did that. We put out that paper together.’ “

FOUR FINE LEADS

Opening sentences from recent Hawk Nation articles

  1. What does the future looklike? Well it looks a lot like the kids at Cedar Trails. – Savannah Havens
  2. As snow falls heavily on the little town of Cedar Springs, students jump with joy knowing that there is a chance in the morning they can shut off their alarms and sleep for four more hours. – Alexis Tanis
  3. The ball dribbles down the court as the players’ hearts race with adrenaline. Shoes squeak against the gym floor as the scoreboard timer counts down. – Tamara Tiethoff
  4. The sweat and tears, and maybe a little blood that go into a show are not unknown to the high school actors in Cedar Springs. – Brianna Shields

Staff Rallies to Save Class

The staff almost did not have a paper to publish this year, when the class was slated to be cut because of low enrollment. But Tamara and another editor met with administrators, recruited students over the summer and brought their case to the school board in the fall with 27 students signed up. The class was reinstated.

“I fought for it all summer,” Tamara says. “Eventually we were able to get our numbers up, so that was kind of cool.”

Hills agrees, having taught the class as a first-year teacher last year.

“I think it’s great the students demonstrated passion, and fought for what they want,” Hills says. “To see these kids care about something enough to want to save it, even though this class demands work, is really cool.”

Cedar Springs is one of about half a dozen high schools in the Kent ISD with student newspapers. Others include East Grand Rapids, East Kentwood, Wyoming and all three Forest Hills high schools. Thornapple-Kellogg had one last year but its teacher left.

Though some students had to drop the class this semester, the Cedar Springs staff has put out four papers so far. Two more are planned, including a special issue for seniors published by seniors on the staff. They print 950 copies at the Argus-Press in Owosso.

Students tackle topics from light features and heavy issues to opinion: the distraction of phones and social media; how school officials call snow days; the pay-to-participate system for school sports; student depression and anxiety; and an editorial on drug education.

Newspapers Still Have a Place

Students generate story ideas in brainstorming sessions, then head out to interview, take photos and do research. They are expected to talk to knowledgeable sources both in and beyond school, and not just “rant,” Hills says: “It’s important to show you’ve talked to multiple perspectives.”

She’s seen students be creative in designing their pages this year, as well as in their reporting. “Some people have really found their niche in writing. A lot of the kids just have a real passion for it.”

You can count in Brianna Shields, a reporter who aspires to be an editor next year.

“I love it, being together as a class and being able to write stories that we like,” Brianna says, as she polishes off a story on teachers’ pet peeves. Their biggest peeve is “PDA,” or public displays of affection. “That was said like seven times,” she says.

Tamara Tiethoff says she likes “getting the inside scoop and being able to tell it in a fun way.” She plans to join the newspaper at Aquinas College while studying nursing there.

“I enjoy how I get out of my comfort zone to go interview people (and) feeling confident about a story,” adds Katherine Krankall, a senior.

Hills is honest with students about the troubled state of newspapers, calling it “an evolving field” with new ways of packaging news. “People who work hard will get jobs,” she says.

Kaitlyn Evola, a copy and design editor, is interested in a newspaper career despite the challenges.

“I don’t like the fact that it’s dying,” the senior says. “I’d rather sit down and read the newspaper than read online.

“I think it’s still a form of communication that keeps people informed,” she adds. “It’s just really important society knows what’s going on.”

CONNECT

High School Newspapers: an Endangered Species

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers Rockford and Grand Rapids. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio or email Charles.

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