THIS APRIL some of the most talented kids I’ve ever met signed up to learn a little bit of what it means to work at a newspaper and have fun doing it.
As their after-school spring enrichment adviser I wanted to see how far we’d get in six hours (one hour a week for six Mondays) by interviewing each other, asking follow-up questions, and talking about how and why news is covered in our larger community.
In our art room-turned newsroom we talked about times we’d appeared in a newspaper — whether in quotes or photos — and how that felt. We interviewed friends and family, came back with copy (with direct quotes, all attributed), and had fun talking about it.
We pored over the papers serving our region, discussing the elements of story, page, and section. We noted ads and comics. We began to think of ways to serve the reader.
Everyone showed heartening enthusiasm.
When we could grab someone out in the hallway for a photo or an interview we did that too, and came back with a great profile of a school dog, a lively Q&A with patient school staffers, and a chat with our librarian.
We voted on a name for this paper — three contenders were proposed, and “The BSE Flow” won — and I thought we’d have fun opening a Word newsletter template and typing our stories in.
The kids looked at me like I didn’t understand.
“No. We want a newspaper,” they said. They pulled a broadsheet, with all the cool stuff in it, out from the pile of papers before us. “This.”
“Uh… OK,” I said. “Let me see how we would print something that large. I’ll get back to you. Hold that thought.”
And I checked with the Daily Hampshire Gazette, which owns just such a press, and they promptly offered to donate 250 copies of a four-page Flow, two pages in color. And then I reported to my bosses — all in grades three, four, and six — and they got to work.
They organized a list of story ideas and decided who would work on what. They wanted to explore, for readers, what it’s like to learn here, create here, contribute here.
They took the project seriously and laughed often, which in my opinion is the perfect balance of life skills.
We had planned to cover everything — all the other enrichment programs, Holocaust Remembrance Day, the eclipse, news from every class, and big events scheduled for May and June.
We worked on stories together; they voted on photos to use out of a dozen or so per subject we’d met.
I roamed the halls on their behalf, taking pictures, interviewing teachers, and … that was a problem. We’d run out of time. I wanted this to be their paper, not mine, so to finish now, without them, to get photos they wouldn’t get to see or vote on, to get quotes they wouldn’t get to consider for follow-up, would defeat the purpose.
I wanted them to lay the thing out, write headlines and captions, and proof pages. I’d help, of course.
Then I learned Jacqui Goodman’s class won that prestigious award, our new lead story. Thrilling for them and for the whole school. This was news! A BSE Flow exclusive! We have such potential. (This also “bumped” other material we had planned for you. It happens.)
So the project ended, and work remains, and we can certainly do this again and build on our experience and add staff, as the kids asked me whether we might, way back on Day One.
I hope you enjoy reading this newspaper with your family. The one at home and the one we share as BSE.
Here’s to the conversation.
— Words and pictures by John Snyder, publisher and adviser