Why School Newspapers Matter, and Why We Should Care


By Jock Lauterer  

When I heard that the Town of Carrboro had proclaimed the last week of February as Scholastic Journalism Week, into my mind’s eye sprang a single photograph from 14 years ago.

Fall 2007: An intense huddle. Five students, a teacher and a computer. The newsroom/classroom, thick with anxiety. The inaugural launch of The JagWire, the new school newspaper for the brand-new Carrboro High School.

Unfazed by my camera, the leadership team wrestles feverishly with the tech issue on deadline (same as it ever was).

How blessed and honored I was to be there at this place, at this moment, to witness the moment of birth. The launch of any newspaper — and I would posit — especially for a high school newspaper, is a certifiable big deal. So much to risk; so much at stake.

It begs the question: Why would anyone go into a field so poorly-paid; so fraught with ceaseless deadline pressures, so ill-suited to a peaceful social or family life? And why would anyone want to teach this stuff? Why indeed.

Jan Gottschalk, the teacher in this photo, responds: “Whether working with my first staff (1975-‘76) as a first-year teacher or my final stint as advisor at CHS (2007-2012), I witnessed the same immeasurable benefits of scholastic journalism. Students learn to question, communicate, value deadlines and assume leadership and responsibility.  The friendships made in the process cross grade levels and generations, often lasting a lifetime. Many students find their voice and their future working on their high school newspaper.”

Jan, at far left, remembers and updates the status of her JagWire launch team from 14 years ago: left to right: 

Emile Toscano, after graduation from Carrboro High School, attended the Naval Academy, and is now serving in the U.S. Navy, stationed in Washington, D.C.; Mariah Norris, attended Middle College High School at Durham Tech; start-up editor Daniel Matchar, graduated from Northeastern University, then earned a master’s degree in social work and is working in the Pacific Northwest; Tony Powell, attended Livingstone College; and Lavanya Rao, graduated from N.C. State, earned a master’s degree in biostatistics and now works as a medical researcher in Rockville, Md.

That Jan remembers these long-ago students, and in many cases has stayed in touch with them, is actually typical of such respected journalism mentors. I am still in touch with the unsinkable Martha Gill, my journalism teacher and adviser to The Proconian at CHHS in the early ‘60s.

And the idea for Carrboro celebrating National Scholastic Journalism Week comes from another CHHS Proconian alum, class of ’80, Margot Carmichael Lester, a member of the National Journalism Educators Association (JEA), who helped craft the proclamation for the Town. Lester, owner of the journalism brand shop, The Word Factory, said this about the proclamation:

“When the JEA asked for help promoting National Scholastic Journalism Week, I bit. I’d had such a great experience reporting for The Proconian and I’m always encouraging students to write for their school papers or get involved in other student media projects. One of JEA’s suggested activities was asking local governments to acknowledge the observance. A public action like a proclamation reinforces the value of student media and highlights how it benefits students and our community. So I wrote the resolution and Mayor Lavelle graciously accepted it. I hope Linda Barnard, The Proconian’s advisor in my day, is smiling somewhere.”

Lester salutes school journalism because “producing student media teaches valuable skills, including leadership, collaboration, accountability, media literacy, critical thinking, time management, creativity and problem-solving … and the scholastic journalism experience imbues young people with capabilities and tools that are essential to a successfully functioning democracy.”

To come full circle, yesterday I got to hang out, via Zoom, with The JagWire’s current leadership team.  First-year journalism teacher Alexandra Haggis (UNC ’19) reflected, “I think it’s essential for students to have an outlet to tell their story in their own words and with their own impressions.”

And I met this year’s JagWire editors Isabella Lane, Audrey Javan, Keti Alemayahu and lastly Ella Terry, who said, “I think The JagWire is important not only because it connects and strengthens the CHS community, but because it fosters curiosity and innovation. I’m very grateful to be a part of it!”

When I held up to my screen the 14-year-old photograph of the original JagWire staff from 2007, I could see by the looks on the faces of the student journalists and teacher alike that they knew they were a part of something bigger than themselves.

That reminded me of a recent conversation I had with Monica Hill, indefatigable director of the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association, housed at UNC’s Hussman School of Journalism and Media. I wondered how many famous American journalists got their start at their high school papers, Hill responded emphatically, “Many — if not most.”

For a full reading of the Town of Carrboro proclamation, go to:   http://townofcarrboro.org/DocumentCenter/View/8786/2021-Scholastic-Journalism-Week

To access the Carrboro High School JagWire: https://chsjagwire.org/

To access The Proconian of CHHS: https://proconian.com/

To access The ECHO of East Chapel Hill High School: https://echhsechoonline.com/

For the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association: https://ncsma.unc.edu/

For more on Margot Lester and The Word Factory: https://thewordfactory.com/


Jock Lauterer began selling newspapers for Jim Shumaker and Roland Giduz on the streets of Chapel Hill at the age of 8. For the last 20 years, he has served as a senior lecturer and adjunct professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, teaching photojournalism and community journalism.

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2 Comments on "Why School Newspapers Matter, and Why We Should Care"

  1. My high school newspaper in California jump started my journalism career that continues to this day. Our high school newspaper spawned careers for reporters and writers who over the years worked for many of the major publications in the country. For those who went on to other careers, I assume the basics of good writing and reporting stayed with them for the rest of their lives. Thanks, Jock, for your story that brought back memories for me.

  2. Jock, just saw this by clicking on “previous.” Brought back lots of memories–mostly good, when I wasn’t tearing my hair out!!

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