Optimism for journalism: what you didn’t know

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Optimism for journalism: what you didn’t know

Katharina Spöth, Writer

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If you’re still thinking about your class schedule for next year, this article could have an impact on your choices and thus, an impact on your life.

This article is based on interviews with a student journalist, an editor and the media advisor for BFA’s journalism class, as well as the reporter’s personal experience.  

First, many students when considering a class, ask, “what could I even learn? How would that benefit me?” Now, this is a question that you have to answer for yourself. Since it doesn’t really make sense to follow a strict curriculum in Journalism, you have the responsibility to decide about what topics you would like to deal with and what you would be interested in. This privilege can build important, real life skills like your self-sufficiency, as long as you use this freedom wisely. Why? Never underestimate deadlines; as soon as you figure out your time management, another important life skill, your stress is going to be cut in half.

As Journalism is considered an English class, it obviously is partially about writing and basic journalistic skills like interviewing and finding non-interview sources.

“It has helped me with my writing, which has vastly improved, and you can look at that on my articles. It has helped me so much in all of those areas and I think that it has had a big impact on all of us here. It is a very unique experience. You have to not only maintain your time in class, but out of class, you have to do interviews, make sure that your sourcing is correct, all kinds of different stuff. It’s rigorous, it’s difficult, it’s deadline after deadline after deadline,” student journalist Owen Biniecki (‘21) said.

Biniecki became a writer for the Mercury in the beginning of school year 2018-19, is the prospective editor, and admits that he “didn’t truthfully have much interest to it in the beginning, however [he] quickly became really passionate about it.”

Biniecki has always been a fervent writer and by becoming part of the Mercury, he quickly realized how much this class could impact various parts of his life. He especially stresses how journalism helps with improving people skills; he can now “talk to people and not feel nervous”.

“Journalism class has offered me a unique place to bloom in confidence. I’m not a very confident person and that was the thing that I was worried about in the beginning of the year. But because [talking to people] was a requirement in this class, it pushed me to really do that because you have to meet people to get a grade and so it really pushed me to be able to perfect public speaking,” Biniecki said.

Yes, due to all those interviews you have to set up and conduct to be able to write a story, approaching and talking to new people really is a requirement to succeed in this class. Wait, before you recoil at this point, let me tell you how unique getting to know someone’s story is. Reporting on current topics will cause you to gain essential knowledge about the most extraordinary events, stories and people!

Talking about people, the most wonderful journalism “journo” team — including a media advisor who would probably deserve his own separate article — needs to be mentioned.

Peter Riegelman worked as an English teacher at BFA for 14 years and after Gene Sink retired, he took over the responsibility of being the journalism class’ media advisor six years ago.

“When it works well in a year or a semester, it’s like building a team and when it works it’s just great. We had a tight little group this semester and it has been really great and I look forward to coming to class every day. I’m just very proud of every single one of the kids who’s in the class right now and I’d stack them up against anybody and any high school in America or Germany,” Riegelman said.

By the way, fun fact about Riegelman: since journalism class is always during fifth period and it is a great time for interviews, he’s letting you take whatever lunch you prefer. If that’s not a reason to immediately sign up!

Biniecki describes how much he values the above described team spirit influencing this class.

“One thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that we are a very close-knit group in here. It’s just such an amazing team in here, I love every single one of the people that I work with and I think that that is one of the most important things,” Biniecki said.

Having this close group of supportive people that are all striving to contribute to the BFA Mercury really makes you feel comfortable in sharing your written work and getting constructive feedback from various positions, the editor(s) as well as the teacher/ media advisor.

According to Riegelman, this class has also been a “poster child” for the concept of project-based learning.

“Those skills apply in so many different ways. There is a current law called act 77 and it’s trying to get high school students to be out in the world getting real-life experience,” Riegelman said.

Another special feature about writing for a newspaper is that you’re doing your work not only for the teacher, but it gets published to the rest of the people too. Online editions and occasionally even printed issues are a wonderful enhancement of an English class.

“The number one thing that I think makes it magical is that you are producing something that is a finished product and it’s not for the teacher. Project-based learning is a big groovy new educational strategy and that’s exactly what producing the newspaper is,” Riegelman said.

And this is just one of the many ways Journalism Class differs from “regular” English classes.

Haley Seymour (‘19) first chose to be a writer for the Mercury in her junior year.

“Accelerated and AP English classes at BFA, those are very tight like there are only certain things you can do. It’s a wide variety of literature, but say AP Lang and Composition you focus on what is in the writing like what is the syntax or the diction and stuff like that, whereas when you write for a school newspaper for example you can expand on what’s going on around you as well as expand your writing abilities. You’re writing something completely different than you would ever write in an English class. You’re writing, you’re interviewing people and writing up about them instead of just writing essays,” Seymour said.

After two years of experiencing life as a student journalist and additionally being promoted to being an editor, Seymour decided to take the chance to also go for that in college.

“Journalism has completely changed my life for the better because I’m going to college for journalism. It’s giving students the opportunity to write journalistically before they go to college. Most people don’t necessarily do that when they go to college but it’s good to have that experience anyways when you’re in high school. If not for this class, I don’t think I would have gotten into the program I’ve got into. I’m doing the professional writing program at Champlain College. I wrote my college essay on becoming an editor for The Mercury,” Seymour said.

As if those personal testimonials weren’t enough, research shows proven benefits for taking journalism at high school. Results of the NNA Foundation’s 2008 Research Study show that student journalists not only overall perform significantly better at high school classes but they also receive higher scores at their ACT’s and higher grades in their GPAs and English classes during freshman year of college.

Furthermore, journalism class can give you a great insight into the “real world.”

Besides those real life skills you can gain, you will get to know your school and community, and, due to all the research, you will learn in practice, not only in theory, about current events and issues.

“It is just much more hands-on. You’re not in a room writing an essay for three hours, you are going out there, you’re talking with people, you’re finding out who they are and you’re chasing these awesome stories. It’s like you’re out there, you are not just in the classroom,” Biniecki said.

Journalism definitely also has a political aspect. It is essential to make sure to make the most of our precious First Amendment rights. Having The BFA Mercury newspaper as a reliable, well-researched source of information since 1930, what makes it the oldest consistently published newspaper of Vermont,  is an almost a rare phenomenon in today’s world, compared to all the fake news that you can find online.

“The modern Internet is a garbage fire. It’s an attention-mongering scape of chaos. It’s very hard to be heard in that chaos and I think that this is a deterrent for people who are interested in this field. We do life in, what other people call, the age of media distrust. Certain political figures have made media their enemy and I think that some people have cued into that mindset and I think that that has kind of hurt this whole thing. The Mercury is really good at keeping bias out of our stories and when we don’t it’s labeled as an opinion piece. We have really done a lot to remove ourselves from the situation and make sure that we are a trusted source of information,” Biniecki said.

Stand up for your rights, show that you have a voice because, like Biniecki said, “it matters”.

So, if you now, after reading this article, think that all those points above are still not convincing you, then that’s yet another reason for you to become a journalist; the fact that you are reading newspapers/ The Mercury as well as your ability to question things are two important characteristics of a journalist.

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