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Murray Journal

Riverview journalism class gives students a sample of recording real world in newspaper, yearbook

Aug 23, 2021 10:10AM ● By Julie Slama

Riverview Junior High’s journalism class was responsible for publishing the online newspaper, Riverview Rush, as well as the yearbook. (Photo courtesy of Riverview Junior High journalism class)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

In seventh grade, Paisley Mitchell wanted to be on her school’s yearbook staff. 

Last year, she learned more about it and discovered the school newspaper was part of the journalism class. This past year, as a ninth-grader at Riverview Junior High, Paisley was one of 22 accepted from the 60 applicants. Instead of asking to be yearbook editor, she applied to be one of the three newspaper editors.

“My aunt (who was in Riverview’s journalism class in the 2000s) told me that she was a newspaper editor and that she had a lot of fun,” she said. “I really liked the idea of being able to come up with what kinds of articles we would be writing.”

The Riverview Rush’s articles ranged from features such as “Asking Girls Questions Boys Are Too Afraid To Ask” to hard news, including what was going on in the world or in the school, such as LGBTQ+ issues, the Black Lives Matter movement, COVID-19 vaccinations and Advanced Placement testing.

The school newspaper transformed much this past year, switching from its name that reflected previous years’ mascot, to going digital, which made it more accessible during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as made it more interactive. She was able to apply what she learned in her digital literacy class with hyperlinks for student surveys and questionnaires, she said.

One of the articles Paisley, who also played in the school orchestra, wrote about was the inequality of sports being able to compete versus performing arts not holding performances during COVID-19.

“I learned a lot in journalism class that your articles need to be unbiased, and they need to be neutral,” she said. “I brought a fair amount, I’d say, from people who thought that it was fair that the sports people should be able to perform and not the performing arts students, and then I got a fair amount of people who thought that it wasn’t fair, so I was kind of able to see both sides.”

With a push from parents, that changed during the school year and performing arts groups were allowed to perform during the pandemic, she said.

Another issue that was addressed was the school dress code, which came about from reading, “More than a Body.” The staff tackled it by writing both a book review as well as having readers respond to a poll that asked them their thoughts of the school dress code.

“I thought it was kind of a good article to do,” Paisley said, adding that the survey asked gender the students identify with, if they’ve been affected by the dress code, and if they think it was equitable. “So, we can use the result from that survey to write about the dress code and then (pair it) with ‘More than a Body’ review. That was one of the articles that really stood out to me. It was cool to get change going.” 

Some other articles were softer news, but still educational. Her classmate, ninth-grader Kennedy Adams, chose to write about swapping sports with other student-athletes.

“I’m on the drill team so I tried a whole bunch of other sports and then, the other kids would try dance,” Kennedy said. “I wrote all about that and that was fun.” 

Paisley said that articles are checked off by the journalism adviser, Heather Wihongi, who started teaching the course eight years ago after teaching English for 20 years. 

Without a set curriculum, Wihongi has created her own, using some of what previous teachers have taught in the course that was established in 1961, but also modernizing it to include learning about college journalism by touring the University of Utah’s communication department and digitizing the newspaper that serves 700 students. The elective course not only produces the school newspaper and yearbook, but it also is responsible for television, website and school announcements as well as an Instagram account. 

“I just kind of changed it up every year depending on the needs,” Wihongi said. “It’s been so great this year because there’s been so many big worldwide and nationwide events that they can write about, and they’ve done a great job.”

The newspaper’s topics have included social unrest and COVID-19, and Wihongi wants students to understand their voice and recording experiences and storytelling in their articles.

“These kids care about what’s going on. There was just so much more going on in the world, between elections and what is happening with mental health awareness,” she said. “People’s stories are really, really important and (I tell them) ‘your perspective is important.’ We talked about the importance of individual story, and this year, with so many things go on, (I said,) ‘you guys are making history. You need to record this; you need to write this down. It’ll be so important to go back and read one day.’” 

In addition to writing an article for each of the seven issues, students learned the basics of newspaper interviewing, writing and editing; completed regular assignments such as analyzing other newspaper articles, including the Humans of New York (photoblog and book of street portraits and interviews collected on the streets of New York City); learning about unbiased reporting, using reliable sources, and meeting deadlines. 

As a result of her experience, Paisley now is interested in possibility pursuing a journalism career or coupling her love of writing with possibly being a pediatric surgeon. 

However, Paisley is unable to continue writing for a school newspaper next year. Murray High Principal Scott Wihongi said because interest in the online newspaper at Murray High has waned, the high school class didn’t have enough students enrolled to carry it, but he plans to offer it again next year.

However, there is strong interest in the high school’s yearbook, so Kennedy, who was Riverview’s yearbook editor, is enrolling in that course this fall.

While submitting articles for the online newspaper, Riverview’s journalism staff also met periodic deadlines for the 68-page yearbook, which the staff chose to have a survival handbook theme.

With a basic format used annually, the staff is responsible for deciding the look of the pages, said Kennedy, who said “a lot of it was a class decision, and then yearbook editors made the smaller decisions like what the font would be, or the colors and the graphics we would put in.”

The staff selected pages from school picture portrait pages to ones that covered clubs or arts. She said that they did try to include pages that showcased students and asked them questions like what their year was like this past year.

Kennedy said that they would track students who appeared in the yearbook so everyone would be included, then they would go to their class to interview them and take their photo. For many, that was fun, but for her, it was challenging.

“I mostly did this class because I’m a very shy person. I needed to do something to step out of my comfort zone and so, I was not ready to interview people at all. It scared me,” she said, but grew more comfortable with it as she did more interviewing throughout the year.

The yearbook included how students survived this year, including a mask fashion page, which Kennedy said, “was kind of a fun thing; it shows what we went through this year.”

It also included a page Paisley created that highlighted what quarantining looked like; she asked students to submit photos of themselves while at home studying and used those for her layout, including one of a student using his Chromebook in the snow.

While Kennedy doesn’t have plans to pursue a journalism career, she said that it has helped with her communication skills.

“It’s helped mostly with my social skills, like being able to talk to people and not being nervous when I talk to people that I’ve never really talked to before,” she said. “Definitely, I think I’m a much better writer now, which is good. The more experience you get from writing, the better you get at it.”