Where does one go for the latest news about U-32 Middle and High School? To the student-produced Chronicle, of course. It’s the news organization that’s been covering U-32 since 1971.
The school has had a student paper since the beginning. In the early days the paper was called everything from “Name This Paper,” and “National Lame Prune,” to “The Shadow,” and “The U-32 Ooops!” “The Chronicle” started in 1984, with teacher advisors Joanne Greenberg and Steve Barrows.
But the latest change is that the Chronicle has now become an online publication. A yearly magazine, Zoo Chronicles, for pieces with a longer shelf life, is also produced in printed form. Advisor Ben Heintz says, “I’m really proud of the magazine from last year and there are still copies for sale in the front office and the library.”
There are a lot of reasons for going digital, for any media outlet. The Chronicle benefits as stories can be published when they’re finished, instead of in a big batch all at once, and can be any length. Also, they have access to a much broader audience and the online format offers the ability to include photos, audio, video, and use interactive features. Another advantage – student editors have the opportunity to learn skills in digital media production that are more transferrable than print layout.
Advisor Ben Heintz says that students mostly come up with their own stories, or he proposes ideas in class. “For most kids this is the hardest part. They’re not asked to think this way in school very often,” Heintz continues. He says that it’s often hard for students to see that the issues and stories in our small community are actually compelling, “so a lot of good stories are invisible, or don’t come on the radar.” He works to expose the students to models of strong local reporting, and in fact, they just had a visit from VT Digger reporter Elizabeth Hewitt!
The Chronicle is working to grow their audience. Their biggest source of readers comes from Facebook. Therefore they are working to increase the number of Facebook followers into the thousands.
Heintz says, “We’ve discovered that some of our pieces can reach a large audience by being shared on Facebook. A couple spoof stories last year were shared a thousand, or two thousand times, and this year Harper Wimble’s tribute to his best friend Seamus was shared ten thousand times – so we know there are a lot of potential readers.”
The Chronicle is working to draw in younger readers – elementary students and middle school kids. One draw is a comic book they are publishing by Senior, Sam Wooliever.
One of the harsh realities of our modern information age is that even the most sympathetic, supportive readers (like teachers, curious kids, or involved parents) are so busy that taking time to look at the Chronicle is tough. The most popular articles have been the spoof articles, in the section called the Woolly Mammoth, perhaps because people are looking for a diversion, for entertainment.
This year the Chronicle is trying to do fewer stories, with an eye to making pieces that are viable for a general audience… so instead of a sports story about a specific game, they had one recently about the rivalry between U-32 and Montpelier which is more relevant to more people for a longer window of time.
Heintz concludes that community media is so important, “Last year I had a student who attended a Druid ceremony, another who interviewed homeless people at a shelter, a Hindu immigrant student who attended a church service. Those are the kinds of opportunities I hope Chronicle reporters will look for, and the stories that come from experiences like these can help bring our community together.”