Saturday, March 21, 2009

Brian South is Now Famous

Well, not really. I did get an article published in the local Naperville Sun, though. See below, or check out the online edition.

North HS Journalism Program Eyes Future

In her youth, Tara Jewell's family subscribed to two newspapers -- a major daily and the local community paper. The routine was simple: Jewell would get the papers as her parents set the breakfast table, and they would all read the news as they ate.

Today Jewell's routine varies in some small but noteworthy ways. Instead of reading the print form of the major daily, she reads it online. Instead of the local paper, she reads two news blogs. And she gets national news headlines e-mailed to her every morning. She's become the type of person who subconsciously polishes her iPhone as she talks to people.

The transition from print to online news junkie isn't an uncommon one, but in Jewell's case, its a significant one: Tara Jewell is the director of the journalism program at Naperville North High School.

The import of training the next generation of reporters isn't lost on Jewell.

"I'm training these kids to be journalists in the school of new media," she says. "It's vital that they are prepared for whatever comes."

Because Jewell believes the future of news media is on the Internet, during the past few years, she has made some major changes to the program. While her journalism crew still produces its monthly newspaper, the North Star, they now post a story almost every day on their blog, North Star Online (

People read their news online because its more accessible, says student editor Jessica Mummery, who along with fellow editors Alex Johnson and Taylor Haeffele is cautiously optimistic about North Star's foray into the digital frontier. All three say they don't regularly read print newspapers, though their families subscribe to them.

"I get most of my news from TV and the Internet," Johnson says. "I love Rachel Maddow, and I check the Daily Beast, the Smoking Gun, and (celebrity gossip blog) every day."

Haeffele is particularly excited about the social networking aspect of North Star Online.

"Currently, the newspaper has 30 perspectives that make up its voice," Haeffele said. "With the Web site, we're giving the school a voice."

Jewell says her goal is to have students post one story each day, even if it's just an opinion poll.

"I want them to be able to post breaking news as it happens, not mull it over for a month," Jewell said. "That's not real journalism. I want my kids to feel like they're the gatekeepers of information at this school. They're deciding on the content of the papers, they're deciding on the content of the blog. They're deciding what's newsworthy.

"Editors also are starting to create weekly podcasts," Jewell said, "which allows students to subscribe to an audio file and have it automatically downloaded to their music players."

Since 2004, past editors of the North Star have painted their names on bricks in the journalism room, the symbolism of which isn't lost on the current editors.

"People could look back and say, 'Oh my God, I can't believe they were doing that,'" says Mummery. "People could look back and think it was crazy."

Crazy or not, the North Star's transition to the Internet is here to stay.

"We're not going back," Jewell said. "No way. This is just the beginning."

Brian South is a freelance writer, and an English and film teacher at Naperville North High School.


Albert Ross said...

Nice local angle on the death of newspapers. The Boston Globe is about to drop off the twig I see.

Brian South said...

Thanks, Albert. We're living in some pretty tenuous times for journalists and would-be journalists, that much is certain.