2009 Sparty Winner: Feature Writing

Despite trend toward online journalism, some stay rooted in print tradition

Written by Christine Lim from Pioneer High School

With her long, gangly legs sprawled over her temporary desk in a dorm room she shares with her roommate, Katie Schnurr is hard at work concentrating on creating a fresh, catchy lead for her story that’s due tomorrow morning. But unlike many of her fellow peers, she doesn’t have a sleek, tech-savvy laptop resting nearby, a convenient device that allows her to blog about her day’s happenings and convey relevant news to her audience. Instead, she dons a worn-down pencil in her hand as she furiously scrawls her ideas on a blank sheet of white paper, even though she is acutely aware of the changing media as more news goes on the web. She said she feels lost amid this change and doesn’t fully understand why it’s happening.

“It seems like everybody is now scrambling to get online, and that most people share news using the internet,” she said. “But I’m still wrapped up in the traditional way of sharing news through print media, and I feel like I’m a notch below everybody else even though I honestly don’t really care for constantly going online.”

According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press in June 2008, 37 percent of Americans regularly get their news online, a 6 percent increase from 2006, and this percentage is expected to increase for the next five years, while the number of people who read the print newspaper is dwindling quickly. Some of this shift may be attributed to growing access to technology; about 76 percent of Americans owned a computer in 2005. As a result, America’s news audiences are now blending online and traditional sources more and more.

Schnurr, a sophomore attending Midland High School in Michigan this fall, is attending the annual Michigan Interscholastic Press Association’s summer journalism workshop for aspiring high school students at Michigan State University, hoping to gain more knowledge and insight on the fundamentals of sports writing and reporting before embarking on her first year on her school’s newspaper, the Focus. She is the paper’s new sports editor and will be in charge of getting adequate coverage of sports in each issue.

However, although she said she is excited for the upcoming school year and the opportunities it could bring to the staff, she said it might be difficult to continuously engage their audience as many of her friends and classmates are always online when not in school. That being said, Schnurr said she wasn’t convinced that moving the publication online was necessary.

She said, “Everybody I know has access to the internet and there’s so much stuff, like Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, which attracts them. I know it makes sense for the news to go where their readers are, but I don’t think that it is necessarily going to be better, especially with the economy and the fact that so many still rely on print newspapers.”

Jim Streisel, the adviser of Carmel High School’s award-winning HiLite Online newspaper in Indiana and author of the book Scholastic Web Journalism, said he first looked at the web as something extra for the print publication and didn’t fully understand it, but as technology has developed, he said he has grown to understand the importance of online media and how it can attract more readers. He said this thought propelled him and his students to make more innovations to the newspaper website. The site now averages around 200 hits a day.

Streisel said the shift online has its rewards.

“I love how there’s always something new every time you go online,” Streisel said. “We wanted this for our school so more students can read our stuff, and the internet is such a great thing because of its speed and immediacy.”

However, he said he doesn’t think print newspapers are a complete thing of the past. “I don’t believe that the print media is going away entirely. This is because there are still the negatives of multimedia that a newspaper doesn’t have,” he said.

As for Schnurr, she said she still thinks her publication will still have dedicated readers and will continue to have their successes, despite the evolving technology.

“Going online is not necessarily the best choice,” she said. “Sure, you can do those cool slideshows and videos that are not possible with a newspaper, but it’s not in our budget to try something totally different. Also, there’s something special about the newspaper that an online publication can never take away, and I believe our readers know that. It feels like there are fewer things for our staff to do if we post our stories on the web, and it will be a really big change that we’re not completely ready for.”

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