Sunday, February 25, 2024

High-school journalists in greater Williamsburg are a dying breed

York High School Homecoming 2017
The student newspaper, The Talon, still comes out in a print at York High School, including this November 2017 issue. That makes The Talon a rarity in the Williamsburg area . (Photo courtesy York High School)

High-school newspapers and student journalists have been a tradition in Williamsburg.

School papers have figured prominently in popular culture, too, including in Jeanette Walls’s memoir The Glass Castle, which was made into a movie and released earlier this year.

Now, student reporters are something of a dying breed.

In the past few years, most high schools in the Williamsburg area have either moved their student newspapers to an online publication or stopped publishing one altogether.

This change has come as a result of lack of student interest, according to Arletha Dockery, Bruton High School’s principal.

Student papers disappearing

Of the nine schools in greater Williamsburg, only four — or less than 50 percent — still have a student newspaper, according to school officials. Just a few years ago, eight of the nine schools produced a student paper.

Bruton High School stopped printing its paper in 2014, Dockery said.

The Warhill High School newspaper, The Lion’s Den, stopped publishing in 2015.

Walsingham Academy stopped its student paper, The Shield, as far back as 2001, according to Principal Corrie Bishop.

Walsingham’s newspaper had been almost 20 years old, with the oldest known edition printed in 1986, according to Bishop; the paper had been published three times a year, but interest dropped around the start of the new millennium.

Another school had a similar experience.

“We struggled to create interest in journalism for quite a few years,” said Whitney Cataldo, principal of Grafton High School.

Only two schools in the area still publish in print: York High School’s newspaper, The Talon, and Jamestown High School’s paper, The Eagle Eye.

Jamestown also has an online version, which is what only two other schools in the area offer. Lafayette High School and Tabb High School both offer online-only student newspapers.

Lafayette High School Rams
Lafayette High School may be the “home of the Rams,” but it’s also home to an online student newspaper. (Andrew Harris/WYDaily.com)

In fact, one school official cited the embrace of digital as a positive development.

“The shift from print to online publishing has freed us dramatically to focus more on news writing and less on technical layout skills,” said Michele Newcomb, assistant principal at Lafayette High School.

Another school had a different take.

At Jamestown High School, only around 50 percent of people at the school actually read the paper — and most of the readers are teachers, according to Dr. Catherine Worley, the school’s principal.

Overarching positive effects

Still, a 2008 report by the Newspaper Association of America Foundation suggests high-school journalists benefit from the experience they gain.

Students who worked on school newspapers had higher grade-point averages and higher scores on standardized testing such as the ACT, the report said.

Almost half of student journalists were also enrolled in advanced placement, accelerated or honors courses. These students also had better writing and grammar skills in college than those who hadn’t worked on school papers, according to the report.

One former high-school journalist echoed this view.

“I have a lot of fond memories from journalism class,” said Journee Dandridge, who worked on Warhill’s The Lion’s Den

Dandridge wrote for The Lion’s Den for three years and the experience helped her realize that her opinion mattered; it also gave her life skills, she said.

“It definitely taught me how important deadlines are and that procrastination always affects me negatively,” she added. “I learned how to interact with people more comfortably, how to formally write, how to formulate my thoughts clearly.”

Reporting contributed by Tom Davis.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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