By: Nicole Ziegler Dizon, Associated Press Writer
(AP) Jenny Klein and Becky Bloom dashed out of class when they heard students at Niles West High School were staging a walkout against the war in Iraq.
Instead of picking up a placard, the 17-year-old seniors picked up their notebooks, and their story was in the online edition of the school newspaper, West Word, an hour later.
“You go out, and students are walking out and yelling and screaming and you just get a sense of something much bigger and much more important,” Klein said. “I feel proud to be a part of that, and to be the one who writes about it.”
High school newspapers across the nation are finding ways to cover the world’s biggest news story without the benefit of embedded reporters, wire services, or daily printing schedules. They’re covering protests, sending reporters to military bases, writing editorials, and talking to students whose parents are overseas.
They are also learning to balance war coverage with stories on other issues their readers care about. Like, say, the prom.
“You have to cover prom. I think it’s written in stone,” said Jack Loveridge, a 17-year-old senior and co-editor of The Stampede at Burges High School in El Paso, Texas.
Yet Loveridge is also sending his reporters to briefings at nearby Fort Bliss, home of the hard-hit 507th Maintenance Company.
“I think a lot of students right now, they’re very connected to all of this because a lot of their parents are at Fort Bliss or in Kuwait or Iraq,” said Linda Corchado, a 17-year-old junior reporter. “To them, prom is not as important as the war.”
Corchado got permission to miss class for a briefing, but learned that reporting can involve hours of waiting and sometimes very little news. She ended up interviewing a reporter from The Times of London for a story on how professional journalists are covering the war.
Aside from the briefings, Stampede reporters are pursuing stories on high gas prices, war terminology, and a local drive to send toiletries to soldiers overseas.
Diana Mitsu Klos, senior project director for the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said high school students want an outlet for their ideas about the war. Their feelings — on issues like the draft or how teens from different cultures view the war — aren’t often expressed in the mainstream media, she said.
“Young people, like all Americans, are engaged in kind of the long-range discussion of the purpose of this war, where this is going, where the United States sees itself,” Klos said.
Her group runs a Web site that includes a special section of tips and Internet links for high school reporters writing stories related to the war.
Because many high school newspapers are on a monthly printing schedule, some are waiting until the last minute to do war stories while others are avoiding writing about it outside of their editorial pages.
At Staples High in Westport, Conn., the Inklings staff devoted the center spread of its March issue to the war. The stories, written before the first bombs were dropped, included an explanation of Iraq’s demographics and an interview with a parent working as a U.N. weapons inspector.
Assignments for this month’s issue don’t include any stories about the war, though that may change, Inklings adviser Stephen Rexford said. Instead, students are writing about a decision to condemn the school’s bleachers and a school courtyard closed because of Frisbee throwing.
“It’s as if right now they’re shifting back to their school. Maybe they’ve had enough” of the war, Rexford said.
The West Word staff at Niles West is taking a different approach, using its Web site to provide constant updates on the war.
In addition to the protest story, the newspaper’s online edition recently published an article on student opinions about the war. News editor Farah Khan, 17, grilled classmates on an exhaustive list of questions, including what they would tell President Bush if they were in his inner circle.
Two reporters wrote columns for and against the war in the March 21 print edition of the newspaper.
Brian Sandalow, a 17-year-old senior and managing editor of West Word, said students have responded well to the coverage.
“People give teens a bad rap, that they don’t care about the world around them,” Sandalow said. “But from the feedback we’ve gotten, I think that’s been proven wrong. A lot of people actually do care about the war.”
On the Net:
ASNE High School Journalism site: http://www.highschooljournalism.org
Niles West paper: http://www.niles-hs.k12.il.us/westword