So I became a newspaperman. I hated to do it, but I couldn't find honest employment.
- Mark Twain
Don't you just love that Gutenberg? You know, the German who half a millennium ago turned a winemaking press into a contraption that printed the Bible. He didn't stop there. All sorts of things went from being handwritten to being set in type. Along came newspapers, evolving into this very Blade in your hands.
Pressing ink onto paper led to “press” being synonymous with newspapers. That those newspapers were a journal of the events of the day led to the term “journalism.” That journalism evolved into a profession is still in debate.
But seriously, we newspaper types (no pun intended) try our best to tell you what's happening here and elsewhere. More importantly, fret not for newspapers in the years ahead. I have seen the future, and it is good.
This vision comes in the crystal ball that is the annual judging of high school newspaper writers and editors. There's this group called GLIPA - Great Lakes Interscholastic Press Association. It is composed of high schools in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana. Its philosophy is one of strength in numbers: By schools judging themselves against each other, they can raise the quality of teenage journalism overall.
For two Saturdays every winter, about 20 or so college educators and some of their students, high school teachers, and practicing journalists meet in West Hall at Bowling Green State University.
As GLIPA coordinator Linda Fritz Glomski sorts the entries into categories like personality profiles, in-depth reporting, news, sports, reviews - 26 in all. Entries from the big schools (250 and more per graduating class) are judged separately from the small ones (under 250). Schools are assigned numbers and their names are blocked out so the judges don't prejudge the entries on the school's reputation.
When I began judging four years ago, I thought the writing would be rather sophomoric. Some was, but many of the stories were well-done. And it seems the level of writing and the types of stories these teens are doing have improved.
For instance, a small school had a profile that opened, “The humidity is rising from the pool into the crowded bleachers. [The subject] anxiously glances at the clock as he hurries to make certain everyone is prepared for the first swim. It's almost show time!” A nice scene-setter to introduce the reader to the subject, who, the story then says, won the county's coach of the year award. The story, from a small school, won a superlative, the top award in its category.
There was the profile of a fellow student that went something like this: “[The subject] said, `If I could spend one day doing anything, I'd go ice skating.' No big deal for others, but it is for her. She has been without legs since she was 2.”
The profile of the courageous young woman who lost her limbs to disease went on to chronicle her success in forensics, debate, and orchestra. It included humor. There was a passage about how she sometimes yells out to a motorist without the proper tag who pulls into a handicapped parking spot, “Hey, being ugly is not a handicap.” The profile won a superior, the second-best award.
Not all profiles were light. There was one about a recent graduate who, on her way to classes at a community college, was killed in a traffic accident. The high school journalist wrote a respectful story with quotes from the victim's sister and mother. It won an honorable mention.
The next category was in-depth reporting from small schools. These teens addressed issues such as: depression, mental illness, obsessive-compulsiveness and panic disorder and listed public agencies that can help those in need.
If any of these high schoolers actually do make a career of journalism, then for our profession, the future is wow.