Aspiring journalists share

experiences at symposium

By Bob Fleming

ALLENTOWN — High school students can prepare for a career in journalism by investing their time and talents writing for their school newspapers and developing their reporting skills — that was the message delivered by a panel of guest speakers at a journalism symposium held recently at Allentown High School.

The Colonial Valley Conference School Newspaper Symposium, hosted by Allentown High School on Feb. 9, was a first attempt to promote stronger relationships between students and faculty members involved in their high schools’ non-athletic extracurricular activities, said Christopher Nagy, principal of Allentown High School.

"We are hoping to present information on a variety of subjects concerning school newspapers and to provide a forum in which student newspaper advisers can speak their minds, learn some techniques and network," Nagy said at the opening of the symposium.

The three-hour symposium was moderated by Michael Dean, a mathematics teacher and school newspaper adviser at the high school.

Approximately 60 students, faculty members and newspaper advisers from a dozen school districts throughout New Jersey attended the symposium and shared their experiences as they related to secondary school journalism and newspaper pursuits.

Andrew Sharp, editorial page editor for the Asbury Park Press, was the first speaker to address the symposium attendees on the topic of "Career Perspectives: High School to World of Work."

"When starting up a school newspaper, you need to develop a mission statement and decide exactly what you want to do with the paper," Sharp said. "The newspaper should offer training to staff members and should offer readers the types of stories and features they want to read."

According to Sharp, high school newspaper writing and journalism courses are an important precursor to college newspaper introduction. Most colleges have daily or five-days-a-week newspapers on campus.

The difference between high school and college newspapers is that the school board or school administrators are normally responsible for, and are considered the publishers of, a high school newspaper, while an independent board of directors, separate from the school administration, usually oversees the publication of a college newspaper.

"My best advice for a high school reporter is to freely engage the subject in conversation and just relax," Sharp said. "Take good notes or tape the conversation with the permission of the interviewee. Follow up on research articles by using the Internet as a source of information."

Martin Endres, an intellectual rights attorney in New York City, addressed the attendees on school newspapers and Internet legal issues.

"School newspapers and the Internet may be different mediums, but they share the same legal concerns," Endres said. "Both are faced with basic legal issues, including First Amendment rights, freedom of speech and freedom of the press."

According to Endres, newspaper reporters and Internet users must be wary of libel issues, which can be written words, photographs or electronic files that cause damage or injury to a person’s reputation in the community.

"The best defense to a libel charge is to report the absolute truth," Endres said. "Always remember that everyone has a right to privacy."

Endres outlined specific actions to avoid in the pursuit of news stories, which included using an individual’s name or image without permission, harassing an individual with constant phone calls or stalking them, publishing private facts such as medical reports, and portraying a subject in a false light.

"To avoid problems with copyright infringement, don’t download pictures from the Internet and use them in your publications," Endres said. "Instead, take your own pictures. If you use trademarks, make sure to include a disclaimer statement that says you’re using a registered trademark in your story or feature."

The next speaker, Benjamin J. Kowalczyk, the chief financial officer for Health Network America, addressed the subject of financial operations for daily and weekly newspapers.

"The finance department of a newspaper is a partner with the publisher," Ko-walczyk said. "The newspaper is dependent upon advertising to generate a significant source of revenue to publish it. Newspaper costs are controlled by department budgets which are overseen by the finance department."

According to Kowalczyk, the finance department of a newspaper "sees the full picture of publishing a newspaper."

Jeremy DeAngelo, editor-in-chief of The Nutshell, Allentown High School’s newspaper, shared his perspective on writing for and managing a school newspaper.

"We try to publish a minimum of five issues annually," said DeAngelo, a junior. "Most of our writers want to do editorials and must be reminded of deadlines. That’s the biggest problem I face as an editor."

DeAngelo said some writers need to be reminded there is a distinction between fact and opinion.

"Our stories must be factual," he said. "Editorials are the proper place to express an opinion. They (opinions) don’t belong in a news story."

Dean, acting as the school’s newspaper adviser, said he remains in the background of operations for The Nutshell.

"It’s the kids’ newspaper all the way until the end," he said. "I don’t do anything until the final edit, which is basically a grammar and spell check for the final copy."

Richard Just, editor-in-chief of The Daily Princetonian, the Princeton University daily newspaper, advised the audience of aspiring journalists what qualities a college newspaper editor looks for in a potential college newspaper writer.

"We’re looking for basic writing skills and creative writing, not just matter-of-fact reporting," Just said. "Developing interesting leads and descriptive headline writing attracts the editor’s attention and improves your chances of being a part of the newspaper team."

According to Just, high school reporters should be encouraged to pursue investigative journalism, which will serve them well when they join a college newspaper group that often requires that type of reporting.

At the conclusion of the symposium, attendees from various schools shared their newspapers and exchanged ideas on how to improve their publications and attract greater readership in their school communities.

"Today we had a valuable exchange of ideas and information," Nagy said at the conclusion of the symposium. "This is just a beginning in the process of promoting strong relationships between our staff members, guiding students in their pursuit of careers in journalism."