ROCKPORT and CAMDEN — The work involved with being in the news business never ends, especially when journalists are still earning their high school diploma, and at the same time, producing a newspaper.
When Camden Hills Regional High School senior Phoebe Walsh sat down to answer questions for this story about being a high school newspaper editor and publisher, she had just finished a 13-hour shift of tidying up the final edition of the inaugural Midcoast Camden Hills Gazette, a free press newspaper no longer bound to covering just the high school.
“It's definitely a full-time job, and that's hard as a student,” she said. “I can't walk down the hallway [at school] without running into several of my staff members, who either have questions, things to hand in, or ideas they want to discuss. It can be overwhelming, sometimes.”
Walsh founded the Camden Hills Gazette during the second half of her sophomore year in 2018 to provide her classmates with a medium to share their ideas and thoughts.
Since then, Walsh has developed the student newspaper from a publication the watch of school administrators to a community-wide media outlet; in turn, broadening its platform, readership and staff.
Reporters and editors are expanding the readership from their student base to include adults, thus providing insight into issues affecting teenagers and acquainting the community to views the next generation holds.
“As we grew, it became more and more about our right to speak freely, a right we are denied in [a] public high school,” she said. “Since this shift, I view Camden Hills Gazette as a chance for students to increase their skills as paid staff members, where their work has a clear impact on the community.”
Since founding the newspaper, the editorial staff has learned the ins and outs of the industry, from writing to selling ads to designing a website, all skills Walsh is pleased to watch develop.
“I am so unbelievably fortunate to get to learn from such funny, intelligent, and motivated people,” she said when asked about the best aspect of working on the newspaper. “We built this unprecedented thing together over the course of years, and it never would've happened had it not been with this group.”
While the staff has had fun, there have been bumps along the way, including that time when the staff learned a lesson about libel. That was after they published an opinion piece about teachers. The piece ruffled some feathers.
“The claims were not as backed-up by fact as they should have been, and some teachers got upset,” said Walsh. “I learn a lot about running a newspaper the hard way, but this one was definitely rough.”
Aside from learning journalism no-nos, Walsh said she has benefited from the management skills the newspaper requires.
“It is difficult having to be in charge of anyone, let alone friends and peers, but being able to maintain relationships with my staff and still keep our focus will be helpful no matter what field I end up in,” she said.
Through the enjoyable and difficult moments, the grueling work of the media industry is worth the effort.
“I've put hours and hours into this newspaper, and to see it improve every month is deeply satisfying,” she said. “[The newspaper] is like a kid to me. I founded it and brought it from a small high school paper to a regional free press. And it's been hard, really hard, but in the end I want it to succeed.”
‘Youth voices underrepresented in today’s media’
In Camden, the Watershed School published its inaugural edition of its student newspaper in November 2019. (Read Watershed School launches student newspaper)
Similar to Walsh, Watershed senior Pearl Benjamin introduced student journalism efforts in her school to provide a voice for the student body.
“I believe that youth voices are underrepresented in today’s media and wanted to give students a platform to provide their own perspectives on today’s most pressing issues,” she said.
That is one of the aspects of a creating a student newspaper that is most intriguing to senior Lyra Kalajian and junior Morgan Macdougal, who both are keen on learning about the viewpoints held, and expressed, by other students.
“I hope this will inspire us all to take an advocacy role in our current lives,” said Macdougal.
Benjamin, Kalajian and Macdougal also noted the learning curves involved with producing a student newspaper.
For Benjamin, the challenge is being able to edit while focusing on her academic studies. Kalajian is learning time management as a journalist and Macdougal is learning to how to stay organized in her writing and ideas, as well as figuring out her next stories.
All three Watershed journalists noted that the most rewarding aspect of producing a student newspaper is seeing their work in print. They take pride in their respective roles in the production of the newspaper.
“I hope to use the editing skills I find to critique my friends’ and coworkers’ work in the future,” said Benjamin.
“I am hoping to pursue a leadership career in the future, so being able to work on a piece independently and also in a group is exciting for me to practice,” said Macdougal. “Working with others is an important skill that I am hoping to practice more.”
“There are a lot of skills you have to learn and implement in order to have a successful newspaper,” said Kalajian. “Personally, I’m working on improving my digital design skills, as I am responsible for the layout of the paper. There are also more general skills like writing, communicating, and adhering to deadlines that are important to any career.”
While the student newspaper is providing valuable lessons, skills and experiences to its staff, the overall goal remains to shape the mindsets of the student body by providing students with viewpoints on prevalent issues.
“I hope our newspaper inspires students to write, advocate, and learn independently about things that we are passionate about,” Macdougal said.
“I think it’s important for students to read articles that other students have written because they can relate to the point of view,” stated Kalajian.
Reach George Harvey at: firstname.lastname@example.org.