The Highlands Current is a small nonprofit weekly (4,000 weekly print copies and 50,000 monthly online visitors) that covers two districts with high schools. At the time (during the 2019-20 academic year), one school had a photocopied newsletter produced by students under the direction of an English teacher three or four times a year, and the other had an English teacher interested in starting a newspaper but not sure where it could fit into the curriculum.
We received a grant from a school foundation to visit with the students of the first school to offer guidance before they produced each newsletter. When each issue was finished, we worked with the teacher to select stories and photos to reprint in The Current as a “Community Edition” that included a masthead listing the student staff. The following year (2020-21), the school did not offer the journalism class, and COVID-19 prevented the teacher from starting an after-school club. That prompted our plan to launch a program for aspiring journalists at both schools.
We put out a call for applications and selected one student from each school. These two students were each assigned to an editor who met with them weekly. They also attended our editorial meetings. Their assigned beat was their high school community and issues of interest to their peers. We paid them for each story and printed and posted their articles, which covered topics from remote learning to coping with a family member who is a QAnon believer.
Our correspondents surprised us with their writing ability and how quickly they picked up the basics of organizing a news story. They needed more help finding and focusing ideas and fine-tuning skills such as approaching and interviewing strangers, locating expert sources and developing a healthy skepticism.
This fall, with the help of additional funding and our board’s commitment to this program, we plan to expand it to include four students. Not only will this increase the pool of journalists-in-training, but it will allow us to showcase more of their stories. We learned during 2020-21 that the students who commit to becoming correspondents are ambitious, and so we had to compete with other activities, such as college searches, sports and clubs. Schools are expected in 2021-22 to return to in-person instruction, which we hope will make generating ideas and reporting easier for our correspondents.