High school journalism: A comeback story

Up close, it’s a normal newsroom meeting. The editor is handing out assignments and asking about deadlines while other journalists are eating at their desks — working through the lunch hour is an industry norm.

Except it isn’t a newsroom, it’s room 226 at Juneau-Douglas High School, and the journalists are students searching for new avenues to let “grown-ups” know they have something to say, too.

JDHS junior Tasha Elizarde inquired last year about joining the high school newspaper, called the J-Bird. Then she found out it no longer existed. Instead of taking it as a sign she should focus on the debate team, swim team, academic decathlon or one of the other half a dozen activities she was already part of, she decided to bring the paper back.

“I’m a strong believer in the power of communication and how it can affect society and our community,” Elizarde said.

She isn’t alone. A dozen students joined Elizarde for a “newsroom meeting” during a lunch hour Tuesday to discuss the final staff count and story assignments. Students sat with their chicken sandwiches and cartons of milk in English teacher Annie Smith’s room, listening to Elizarde discuss writing workshops while also watching the clock for their next period.

Smith is the newspaper club’s advisor, although she doesn’t have a journalism background. She said she was just excited to see students gathering to pursue any form of writing outside the standard curriculum, giving them a chance to express themselves.

“I think it’s a great student outlet for creative and non-fiction writing,” Smith said.

Smith is also there to direct students on the business side of things, explaining that for now, online publishing through the J-Bird website (jdhs.jbird.org) might be the only option because advertisement fees from businesses to help pay for publishing have not been acquired.

Elizarde said that’s something she’s working on, along with talking with members of the Juneau Empire who have expressed a willingness to help. In the meantime, she’s focused on getting her team ready for what she hopes will be the paper’s first publication date of the semester, Nov. 15.

The paper will keep a lot of the formatting it’s had in the past, Elizarde said, but since its time in the 1920s, and even since it’s sporadic one year return in 2012, a lot of changes will take place. Several students have expressed interest in using their comic skills to create satire comic strips of “days at JDHS.” Elizarde said she’s optimistic looking forward that this paper, with all the news, opinions and art it will showcase, will be a success. The key will be learning from the past.

The J-Bird, version 3.0, comes after the first run of the paper fell following a 2002 article published that compared a JDHS sports victory over the Sitka Wolves to child abuse and rape. It was an anonymous piece of fictional writing that lost the paper its credibility.

Sophomore Jillian Smith said she’s joining the paper to bring her own style of occasional satirical writing, but will keep in mind that the privilege of writing for a paper shouldn’t be abused.

“It wasn’t appropriate journalism, and the students were just trying to push their voices without really trying to make a paper good and respected,” Smith said of the 2002 incident.

Smith said expressing her opinion is important to her, but getting facts across to students in need of a global perspective is something she wants to be part of, too.

“In our world history class there were a lot of kids who had a lot of misconceptions about the events going on in the Middle East,” Smith said. “Education on current events is very necessary and that makes the students a much more informed public.”

Elizarde said an informed, engaged student body is one of the reasons she’s fighting to bring the paper back, along with creating a stage for social change, if that’s what the students want. Social media isn’t always enough to make things happen, she said, and students’ voices needs to be represented in a way that adults can digest and respect.

“There’s this stigma that we don’t really care about anything, but that’s not necessarily true,” Elizarde said. “If there’s social change students are willing to make happen …we’re able to give information to that public in order to create that social change.”

Student training and preparation for the first paper will take place up to the first print deadline. Until then, the students will work on pushing smaller stories to their website or using their Twitter account, @JDHSJBird, to keep the community informed.

Once the J-Bird operation is up and running smoothly in the school, Elizarde said she doesn’t plan on slowing down. She wants to increase the reach of the paper, putting them in front of state legislators during session. She said they too could benefit from hearing what students have to say about legislation they pass and which students must live with.

“We do have opinions that do matter and we are able to analyze situations in a professional, mature way,” Elizarde said. “We know what’s going on.”

To learn more about the paper, email Elizarde at editor@jdhsjbird.org.

• Contact reporter Paula Ann Solis at 523-2272 or at paula.solis@juneauempire.com.

More in News

Police arrested a 20-year-old for a variety of charges stemming from a string of incidents where he shot passersby and other vehicles from a car with a BB gun. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File)
Man arrested following BB gun attacks

He allegedly shot both passersby and other vehicles on the road.

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a Glance for Monday, Jan. 24

Numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency… Continue reading

It's a police car until you look closely and see the details don't quite match. (Juneau Empire File / Michael Penn)
Police calls for Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Float of ducks off Pt. Louisa with Eagle Peak, on Admiralty National Monument around dusk in Juneau winter.
Wild Shots: Photos of Mother Nature in Alaska

Reader-submitted photos of Southeast Alaska.

FILE - Participants wave signs as they walk back to Orlando City Hall during the March for Abortion Access on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Orlando, Fla.  State-by-state battles over the future of abortion in the U.S. are setting up across the country as lawmakers in Republican-led states propose new restrictions modeled on laws passed in Texas and Mississippi even as some Democratic-controlled states work to preserve access.  (Chasity Maynard/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)
With Roe in doubt, states act on abortion limits, expansions

“This could be a really, really dramatic year…”

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the Novel Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. Also known as 2019-nCoV, the virus causes COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML
COVID at a Glance for Friday, Jan. 21

Numbers come from reports from the City and Borough of Juneau Emergency… Continue reading

Ted Nordgaarden of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation imitates the gesture made by the defendant during the trial of a man charged with killing another man in Yakutat in 2018. (Screenshot)
Investigator testifies as trial concludes second week

The jury watched video of the defendant’s initial interview in custody.

Peter Segall/Juneau Empire
One of the last cruise ships of the 2021 season docks in Juneau on Oct. 20, 2021. Local operators say it’s too early to know how the upcoming cruise season will unfold, but they’re cautiously optimistic.
Smooth sailing for the 2022 season?

Cautious optimism reigns, but operators say it’s too early to tell.

Most Read