Some see a newspaper — I see hope
I can’t remember when I’ve been this jazzed about something. Sure, last year had a couple gems in the muck — my story was in Amy Ferris’ “Shades of Blue” anthology, which was amazing, and I managed to publish iPinion Syndicate’s first anthology, “Belly Shame — Stories from the Gut,” all by myself on CreateSpace — far more amazing because I finally finished something.
Those were the highlights of an otherwise craptastic year for this tired, cranky newspaper editor whose career trundles along like a wind-up toy endlessly bumping against a wall, which sounds a lot like “why, why, why…”
My husband often makes noises about us retiring, and I used to recoil in horror. I’m not that old! I just play the part of someone who’s that old! But I’m slowly warming up to the idea as I consider that retirement would be basically just like working at the Express: I’ll still be bumping against a dead-end wall, but at least I’ll be in pajamas.
Now, before my boss starts cartwheeling for joy down Main Street at mere mention of my early retirement, let me temper that jubilation with the reality of my actual financial ability to retire, which requires a substantial retirement fund, which further depends upon an ample income from which your money can be siphoned away for Wall Street gambling and to fund obscene bonuses for grotesquely overpaid sociopaths in suits in the hope that there’s something leftover with which to eke out a meager little existence.
My boss knows what I make. He therefore knows about my ability to retire. Or not. His first cartwheel surely collapsed on the spot. I ain’t goin’ nowhere. And so, he and I shall persist like two cats with their tails tied together and thrown over a laundry line. At least I can afford Bactine on an editor’s salary.
And yet, as I examine the ugly financial reality of my career choices and resist the urge to dissolve into another weeping, despairing sack of “Oh, why didn’t I become an orthodontist,” I’ve found a reason to face the day with joy: the Wolfskill News & Review.
The first edition of the Wolfskill News & Review rolled off the presses last week, and can be found in the March 3 Winters Express. It’s not merely a high school newspaper. It’s a community newspaper, from the perspective of Wolfskill High School students. Wolfskill teacher Robert Arosteguy must be credited for making this happen. I’d approached the idea before when I learned that our main high school had dropped its journalism class and abandoned its newspaper (yet, it still manages to fund football just fine), but it never materialized.
This year, Robert decided to take another run at the idea of a student-run community newspaper, and invited me to his classroom to talk with the students about what that entails: lots of fact-gathering, the unyielding reality of deadlines, and how nothing happens without the editor, who keeps the reporters on track and pulls it all together, time after time, despite being denigrated behind her back (yes, people — editors know) and who, by all rights, should be addressed as Your Highness.
Septic regret over career choices aside, I told the class that journalism develops some valuable job skills. First and foremost, a journalist must have excellent writing skills. S/he must be able to distill an abundance of complicated and contradictory information into something interesting and understandable, as succinctly as possible. Journalism writing isn’t like English composition in school, where you can blather on and on for pages. You must be able to distill an entire discussion on the merits of municipal funding measures for lateral sewer lines into 700 words, and by the way — make it riveting. And also simple enough for a fourth-grader to understand.
A journalist must also have tenacious research skills, near-perfect attendance, be able to work amid chaotic conditions, be assertive with often uncooperative and evasive individuals, be able to set aside unpleasant feelings and “do it anyway,” and get her/his work in on time, every time, completely and accurately. I ask you — is there any career or course of study on earth where that skill set won’t come in handy?
Now, you may ask, why attempt to nurture those qualities at a continuation high school, with students who, for one reason or another, weren’t functioning well at the regular high school, at a place that’s in such a shambles it seems unfit for livestock, let alone human beings? Well, that’s exactly why: I believe everyone should have hope for something better, and those with the least hope are the ones I’m most interested in. Everybody should have a chance to succeed. #AllStudentsMatter, dammit.
Wolfskill students have been stigmatized in this community as losers for decades. Troublemakers. Less than. Throwaways. They’re plucked from high school and dumped at a crumbling campus that still bears the name of a kindergarten (how about an extra helping of disgrace for those who need it least), where grass grows up through decaying asphalt and water trickles down from the ceilings when it rains. You think such conditions exist only in inner city slums (and also the Express office) but no, it’s right here in sweet little Winters, and everyone just looks the other way.
They’re just Wolfskill students. Who cares.
You know what? I care. So does at least one intrepid teacher. And, based on how that group of students smacked their first edition right out of the park, I think they care too. Their stories were thorough and impassioned, and right on time. Even the principal had praise for the first edition, admitting to me that some of the stories made him a bit nervous.
“I guess that means it’s good journalism if it made me nervous,” he commented.
Oh yes. Yes it does. Journalists can make the right people nervous at the right time, thanks to our First Amendment — and that’s what it’s all about. A free press is the cornerstone of democracy. Without it, We The People crumble. Yes, journalism matters. And so do those Wolfskill students.
May the Wolfskill News & Review experience inspire them to reevaluate their own abilities, and parlay the skills of being curious, tenacious, thorough, competent and reliable into whatever their career goals may be. May it inspire hope. And knowing that I may play a part in all that makes the “why, why, why” of my job a little less painful.