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Elkhorn students hoping to start newspaper

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Pedro Oliveira Jr.
October 10, 2009
— Newspapers are crumbling, and the future is dim for print publications around the nation.

But that isn't stopping an Elkhorn High School class from pursuing a dream of putting together their own student newspaper.


"The hope was to do some sort of newspaper, maybe an update or a newsletter or something like that to keep track of what's going on in the school," said Michael Byington, the English teacher behind the project.


The curriculum for Byington's beginning publications class includes journalistic techniques and writing exercises. On a recent morning at Elkhorn High School, students were learning about interview techniques and what makes a news article important—accuracy, objectivity, prioritizing information, Byington said.


"Last year for speech class, we'd do a televised report of what was happening in school," Byington said. "It was accepted well, and people liked it. But it wasn't as all-encompassing."


Now Byington and his class are working on covering homecoming festivities at the school. They're writing and rewriting in hopes of putting together their first newspaper, which Byington said at first most likely will resemble a newsletter.


The teacher responsible for running the yearbook and the now-defunct newspaper wanted to take a break from publications after more than a decade on the job. So Byington, who has a communications background from his master's degree, decided to take on the task.


He's a do-it-all kind of guy. He teaches beginning publications and the yearbook class—advanced publications—two speech classes and American literature. He also coaches tennis and bowling and previously coached Elkhorn's forensics team. He gave up forensics because it was starting to become too much.


Senior Michelle Gottschalk is one of the few students in the beginning publications class to remember having a newspaper in the school.


"We used to have a special homeroom day, and we would sit, and we would read the newspaper," she said. "We used to find out about things we never knew about, and we would connect with people we didn't know we could connect to.


"It was the talk of the day. It was great."


Some students like the idea of a newspaper because they could get their five minutes of fame, Gottschalk said.


"Some people say, 'Oh, if I get my name in the newspaper, that'd be so awesome,'" she added.


But there are academic opportunities, too.


"In all our English classes, you just sit and read books; you're not going to learn anything (that way)," she said. "I would sit there and be like, 'Where do you put commas, how do you fix this?'"


The newspaper is a good way of getting students interested about the language and to feel the accomplishment of putting together a tangible product, she said.


On a personal side, Gottschalk is getting ready to apply for colleges to pursue a degree in criminal justice, and she wants to know how to write well.


"Colleges really want you to be able to write right," she said. "If you take publications, you learn how to structure your sentences, where to put your commas and so on."


In her first publications assignment, sophomore Skylar Boettcher is writing about homecoming as a way to bring students together.


"I think the segregation in the school has gotten to a really extreme point, between grades and cliques and all that," she said.


So Boettcher is exploring ways to change that. She hopes this class will give her an edge in her aspiration of studying journalism at Marquette University in Milwaukee.


"Part of it for me is because I wanted to go into politics," she said. "But how many small-town Wisconsin women get to be a senator? It doesn't happen. You have to be realistic.


"I guess with political journalism I could still kind of be close to that."



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