When classes end at New Paltz Central High School, a core group of just more than a baker’s dozen of students meets after school to plot, scheme and develop story ideas. They draw inspiration from national events, what they see at home and they turn it into the news that other high schoolers will soon read.
The staff of the high school’s The Maroon newspaper met last week to discuss the stories for their upcoming third issue. Written on the whiteboard behind editors-in-chief Carly Jobson and Frances Eckles was a list including stories about “Hydrofracking in New Paltz,” marijuana use in teens and the Occupy New Paltz encampment in Hasbrouck Park.
As with a professional news organization, The Maroon’s staff is always looking for the kind of stories that will appeal to their audience.
“We try to keep a good balance between school-related issues and world issues,” explained Eckles.
Part of the challenge of putting out a student paper at the high school has to do with the way the newspaper club is set up. Students only meet after school, and any vacations or breaks interrupt the flow of what they’re doing. Each year, when one class graduates, a whole new group of people come into the newsroom. Students generally try to put out an issue of the paper every month, but sometimes it slips to a new issue every six weeks.
For that reason, The Maroon tries to focus on stories that aren’t time-sensitive and have a long shelf life. Writing, focus and the amount of reviews, op-eds or straight news stories can vary depending on what the kids come up with, and that gives each volume a unique flavor.
“Basically, every issue is different,” Jobson said.
Whimsy is sometimes a determining factor for The Maroon’s staff. Pandemics and AMC’s The Walking Dead seems to have been on writer Anna Gilmore’s mind when she penned an article asking students and teachers how they’d cope with a zombie apocalypse.
Other times, the students take on larger, more controversial issues. Staff writer Charlton Tsai took to the corridors to interview his classmates, tackling race relations in the school and asking why students seem to segregate themselves into small, all-black or all-white cliques.
Tsai wrote that he didn’t see or experience outright hostility, but the self-segregation confounded him.
“At the high school, we are fortunate that the issue of race results only in social segregation, rather than racial discrimination,” he wrote.
Despite the weighty subject matter, The Maroon seemed to get good feedback on the piece. Keeping out of the story is a key ingredient for the student writers.
“We always try to keep it objective,” Tsai said.
Journalism teacher Joel Neden serves as the staff advisor for the paper. Each year, he watches a different group of students come together and grapple with the pressing, newsworthy issues around them.
As their advisor, Neden is tasked with the job of making sure the stories don’t ruffle too many feathers in the principal’s or superintendent’s office — while at the same time allowing the students to keep their creative voice. Part of making sure that happens is trying to replicate a college newspaper, he said.
“We try to create a paper that can be an instrument of social change,” the teacher explained. “This year, we’ve got a great staff that divides up the workload.”
For students one benefit of contributing to the school paper comes in the form of the yearly field trip. The Maroon’s staff heads down to Columbia University in New York City to learn about journalism as a career option.
According to Neden, it can be a challenge to teach kids how to write in the social media age, where people routinely violate their own privacy to post unfiltered trivia about their own daily doings. Writing for the newspaper gives students an opportunity to learn how to write for an audience.
“Most of the time, kids want to write. And they write things that are worthwhile because they have an audience,” he said.
To learn more about the paper, search for their page on Facebook. ++