Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Flashback: Working on the High School Newspaper

As a 30-something adult, it seems a little odd to blog about high school. Earlier this year, I was asked by Outreach, Newark Academy’s alumni magazine, about my experience as editor-in-chief of the high school newspaper, The Minuteman. (The article starts on page 17.)

Childhood experiences often seem simultaneously near and far. The email request, from a current editor of the newspaper, made those days seem near again. I was asked about how the experience shaped who I am today. What a doozy of a question! (Would I have said “doozy” in high school?)

I’m not sure what motivated me to start working on the newspaper. I knew I should be “involved” in order to have something to list on my college application (such a weak-hearted reason, no?) I also knew that I did not want to play sports in college. There weren’t any college-application-list-worthy positions in the art room, and so I signed up for the newspaper.

At that point, I had been writing poems and keeping a journal for a few years. I was an avid reader of young adult and adult novels – on my own. So the newspaper seemed like a reasonable choice. I imagined spending time alone drafting articles and playing with words.

I was a shy kid, though, so once as the years passed and I found myself applying to be an editor and then the editor-in-chief, even I was surprised. I was in the role of organizing meetings, making announcements at the daily, school-wide Morning Meeting (what terror!), and interviewing people for articles which would be published. I was definitely out of my comfort zone.

It was exhilarating, terrifying and stressful at times. Sometimes it was even boring. I made friends with other students who I probably wouldn’t have gotten to know otherwise, which was generally great. There was some “drama,” as they say now, but what group of people, let alone high schoolers, can get away without it? Mostly, it was just something I did and part of my maturing identity.

The startling thing, besides my having to be more social and public than came naturally to this only child, was that I was one of the few female editors. By senior year, I was the editor-in-chief and almost all of the editors were male. Apparently earlier (all-male) staffs would have sleep-overs to work on the newspaper. There was a certain friendship and rhythm that I was left out of and, because of my gender, caused other people to change.

I learned a lot about myself, leadership, teamwork and writing. I also learned that I wanted to go to Smith College and work closely with female leaders. Most of all, I knew that I wanted to write.

Deadlines, fact checking and writing style became considerations for my work and the work I edited. This was a big change from the random lines of sentimental poetry I jotted down in my journal. I also started to understand the importance of audience. Readers – a group we weren’t hand-picking – were picking up the newspaper and reacting. There was a certain power rush with that knowledge, but also moral and ethical responsibilities.

Writing is a craft that requires practice, like speaking a second language or playing an instrument. Thinking back on my beginnings reminds me of the importance of these basic skills and considerations that require attention everyday. As I publish more widely, the moral and ethical responsibilities loom large.

I’m proud of the work I did, even if also cringe at some embarrassing memories. The entire experience encourages me to keep working diligently on my writing. If nothing else, I’d like to make that little girl inside of me proud. I didn’t really think I’d be a newspaper reporter. I had short, unpaid internships at TIME Magazine and the New Yorker, and they didn’t seem quite right for me. But I dedicated myself to writing early and it has served me well.

My message to those of you starting high school and thinking ahead to college: Choose a variety of activities and see what fits. When something does fit, as surprising as it might be, meet the challenge and throw your heart into it. Enjoy what you learn and who you become.  You will appreciate being sincerely interested in something, rather than doing it just “to get into college.” You’ll excel and that honesty, to yourself and the application, will show.

Are you applying to college, graduate school or a certificate program? I am available to help you work on your personal essay. 

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