Columbia Scholastic Press Association
Phone: (212) 854-9400
CSPA is affiliated with the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in the City of New York.
Student Journalists Finish Intense Training
While their peers loll on beaches, or trek over tree-studded mountains, high school students from across the country and overseas met in New York City recently to attend the Columbia Scholastic Press Association Summer Journalism Workshop.
Now in its 27th year, this summer journalism program offered five days of intensive classes where over 250 young people learned techniques ranging from the fundamentals to more advanced levels of, among other things, reporting, writing editing, leadership and design. In other words, many of the comprehensive skills they will need to publish a newspaper or yearbook in the upcoming school year.
Included in the group of young publishing enthusiasts were many students who traveled cross-country to participate in the workshops held on the Columbia University campus in New York City. A number of workshop attendees even traveled from overseas flying in from cities in Great Britain, Japan, Korea, Singapore, and Turkey.
“We want them to have a more professional approach to the work that they do,” said Bob Greenman, an experienced adviser to student journalism publications based in New York City, and one of 14 teachers with similar experience publishing high school newspapers or yearbooks who taught at this summer’s journalism workshop.
To this end, the enrollees entered a kind of benign boot camp; classes met in the morning, reconvened after lunch, and reassembled after a lengthy late afternoon break for a final two-hour session in the evening. Daily assignments had to be completed and were evaluated usually by the next day.
Columbia’s urban setting tucked amid the myriad cultural offerings of the city proved an ideal setting for reporting and writing assignments whether intended for newspapers or yearbooks. Bob Greenman asked his class to venture forth on campus. An early task involved talking to Columbia students as a way to practice interviewing techniques. Another day, members of his workshop had to write a story providing “images and impressions of being in New York. One early evening, Greenman’s students had “to sit on campus at dusk and write a mood piece.”
Prior to seeing the hit Broadway show, Legally Blond, all workshop members – perhaps future arts critics? – had an opportunity to interview several cast members, the producer, and assistant director of the show at a press conference organized for the reporters’ benefit. Laura Finaldi, a senior who writes for the Danbury High School newspaper in Danbury, Connecticut asked the first questions with an assured manner: “How did you get involved in the show and where do you get the inspiration for the character.”
With gentle encouragement from his Valencia, California classmates, Mike Ram, a senior at West Ranch High School, and member of his school’s yearbook staff lobbed the second query: “How do you know you want to be an actor or actress? Without missing a beat, Natalie Joy Johnson, who plays the character Enid in the musical blurted out her insouciant response: “It beats baby sitting and temping in a serious way.”
Future editors-in-chief in newspapers or yearbooks could attend classes designed for this staff position. “Without training in how to fill the job of editor-in-chief,” said Kathleen Zwiebel, one of the instructors for these sessions at the workshop, “they won’t know what to do and their staff [members] won’t respect them.”
The adult participants in the summer workshop share a solid belief that staffs practice journalism at yearbooks as well as newspapers.
Yearbooks published today are a far cry from earlier publications that featured limited text descriptions of milestones, such as senior prom, along with uninspired photographs. Still, one common concern for this year’s staffs will be to feature more, in-depth profiles of high schoolers’ lives both in and out of classes.
“We need more student orientated yearbooks with sound information in stories that relate to kids of that year,” explained Jim Jordan, a yearbook adviser at Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks, California and instructor for the workshop. Yearbooks produced by the end of next year, he continued, “should be more than football and band. It’s a way to tap into what it’s like to be a teenager in 2009. The buzzword for this type of coverage is “student integrated.”
Evictions from homes, the challenge facing pregnant teenagers who want to keep their babies and stay in school, kids barely out of middle school coping with a chronic disease are the reality for contemporary teenagers whether they live in urban or suburban settings.
During a discussion among members of the Bronx High School of Science (Bronx, New York) yearbook staff, a desire to reflect this shift in editorial focus collided head-on with some potential obstacles.
For starters, attempting to feature student lives in all their complexities while maintaining an upbeat tone is a considerable juggling act. “Realistically, we cannot put negatives in the yearbook,” shared Olaf Woldan, referring to The Observatory, the Bronx High School’s yearbook name. (Each school year has an individual theme. Last year’s theme - Its Your Thing).
The size of the student body can be problematic as well, explained Alexa Nicholas, a junior on The Observatory staff who wrote the words “copy editor” on the tent card at her desk in a classroom in Lerner Hall. “We have to represent the school more accurately because all 3,000 students are individuals,” she nodded as her colleagues vocalized their agreement.
At the conclusion of a session on how to provide leadership for a yearbook staff, a co-editor-in-chief of her school’s yearbook at the Emma Willard School, shared her thoughts. Sandra Brooks, who attends the Troy, New York boarding school, said she will leave the summer journalism workshop inspired to share what she learned with her colleagues on The Gargoyle: “We will work, work, work,” said Brooks whose co-editor-in-chief is Crystal Ruiz. She nodded her head for emphasis while remembering an intangible lesson she would take back with her: “And we should have more fun while we are doing it."
Lisa Redd is a former reporter and writer for Newsday and is program manager for professional prizes at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
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CSPA is an international student press association, founded in 1925, whose goal is to unite student journalists and faculty advisers at schools and colleges through educational conferences, idea exchanges, textbooks, critiques and award programs.