When Mitchell High School’s student-run newspaper, The Kernel, succumbed to budgetary cuts and was dropped as a course for school credit this past summer, the newsroom at The Daily Republic in Mitchell, S.D. knew it had a job to do.
Despite being tasked with putting together a daily newspaper of their own, the consensus amongst the Republic’s staff was quite clear.
“We decided to help because we need future journalists,” said managing editor Luke Hagen. “Editors all over the country will agree with that, but it’s awesome to have an opportunity to actually make a difference, so I didn’t want us to lose out on that chance.”
Instead of being offered as a regular class for credit, The Kernel now bears the unique distinction of operating as an after-school club newspaper led by the Republic.
Following the publication of the first edition last October, Hagen noted that the feedback from both the community and teachers at the school was overwhelming.
“The Daily Republic has a reader board that meets once a month with community leaders, and some of those people gave special recognition to our first edition,” Hagen said. “For it being the debut issue as a club, I thought it was a success.”
Each edition of the monthly paper is eight pages and consists of a news, features, sports and opinion section. Typically, students cover on-campus topics, with the opinion pages also featuring a movie column as well. According to Hagen, about 1,000 copies of the paper are printed each month by the Republic for a significantly reduced cost.
Every week, Hagen meets with the staff of The Kernel for about an hour (four students with about five part-timers who write one or two stories/columns for each edition). While Hagen has been the primary leader of the program, the entire Republic staff has been receptive to helping the students if needed.
Sara Bertsch, the Republic’s lifestyles and education reporter, assists in the editing and design process of the school paper. The role of journalism advisor, she says, is more important than ever as budding young reporters like the ones at Mitchell High School are next in line to be the watchdog journalists presiding over the fourth estate.
However, the most rewarding aspect for Bertsch has been witnessing firsthand what ultimately every journalist, including herself, once felt as they uncovered their passion for reporting.
“They are still learning how the newspaper business works and it’s exciting to see them fall in love with it the same way I did in high school,” she said. “This is where it starts.”