By Alyce Brown
BETTENDORF, Iowa (Quad-City Times) — Local journalism has long been touted as an important part of every community, seen as integral to smooth functioning and accountability.
One place where local journalism cannot be forgotten about is high schools, where student journalists are facing a distinct and ever-changing set of triumphs and challenges.
“We’re the history-keepers of the high school,” said Sarah Miers, adviser of the yearbook and newspaper at Rock Island High School. “There’s the record books for athletics, there’s attendance, there’s all that stuff, but really telling what it’s like here for students everyday, we’re the only ones in the school who are doing that.”
“You’re documenting student life and you’re empowering these students to understand they have freedom of speech,” added Clint Balsar, adviser of the newspaper at Davenport Central.
Student journalists across the Quad-Cities are all working to be “history keepers” for their respective school communities, and are bumping against the unique struggles that come with writing for and about the peers that they see every single day.
“Professional journalists don’t really hear people’s critiques right then and there,” said Allisa Pandit, editor-in-chief of Pleasant Valley’s print newspaper. “But as soon as (the newspaper) comes out, you hear everyone talk about it, which is definitely a weird experience.”
Their status as students also puts them under large amounts of authority, which can sometimes make controversial stories harder to take on.
“A big challenge is getting high school students to gain the confidence to take on important topics,” said Maureen Dyer, adviser of the newspaper and yearbook at PV. “Students see administrators and teachers as authority figures, which is great, but that sometimes makes them not want to challenge the status quo.”
The school setting also means that high school journalists are maintaining the newspaper while tending to many other commitments, and becoming a jack of all trades to help make up for understaffed newsrooms is often the norm.
The classes responsible for the publications at Rock Island and PV are both facing smaller staffs than previous years, and the club that meets at Davenport Central hovers around 12 staffers.
“The workload is heavy,” said Rock Island yearbook and newspaper staff member Phoebe Fuller. “We have to work hard and we have to work fast.”
Heavy workloads are often accompanied by budgetary restraints, a common theme throughout the schools.
“We raise the money for our newspaper on our own. Funding is a constant battle,” Dyer said. PV gets the majority of its funding from the student journalists raising their own funds through selling advertisements.
Davenport Central also receives partial funding from selling advertisements, and Rock Island, whose primary publication is its yearbook, is funded through yearbook sales.
“Whatever we sell, that is our budget,” Miers said. “It’s something we’re always very cognizant of.”
Often, however, attracting writers to the publications is one of their larger hurdles.
“It’s easy for me to scroll through hours and hours of YouTube because everything is being provided to me on a platter. It’s another thing to be able to actually create that kind of thing. So we try to make it clear what the benefits are of actually creating instead of just consuming,” said Oliver Klipsch, Davenport Central’s editor-in-chief, of his efforts to attract writers to the newspaper.
Because of the ease of consumption, high school journalists have had to quickly figure out and adapt to what content will actually interest their media-centric peers.
“A lot of times we’ll pitch an idea and then we’ll be like ‘But wait, do high schoolers actually care about this?’” Pandit said.
Despite the challenges facing high school journalists, many believe that the existence of news written by high schoolers, for high schoolers, is still crucial.
“It’s one thing as a student when I’m receiving information from someone in a position of power, and it’s another thing when I’m receiving information from one of my peers, because it’s coming from someone who’s experiencing the same things I am,” Klipsch said. “When communication is coming from peers it has a lot more power.”
Davenport Central’s online newspaper can be found at blackhawknews.com, Pleasant Valley’s online newspaper can be found at spartanshield.org, and Rock Island’s online newspaper can be found at rockislandcrimsoncrier.org.
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