Walk into room E26 on the Menlo-Atherton High School campus and you find yourself entering not just a classroom but a newsroom. Take the first announcement yesterday: Kate Reardon and Regina Mullen had been dispatched to cover the plane crash in East Palo Alto. Hours later they posted a story for M-A Bear News with a perfect “nose-for-news” school tie in – an M-A student’s former foster home was one of those hit by the plane.
M-A Bear News – a full-featured online publication with news, sports, and opinions – was shepherded to life just months ago by one half of the journalism class’ able teachers, John McBlair. His teaching partner, Betsy Snow (pictured, top), is working with the class to produce a magazine (The Mark) which will be published in the spring, an effort partially funded by Foundation for the Future.
Snow commends her students for being incredibly patient and willing to make the transition from the long-established print newspaper – the Bear Naked News – to the new online publication as well as learning the elements of print magazine design. “It’s exciting to see where all of this will go,” she said.
Added McBlair: “Our kids come up with tremendous ideas. It’s fun to watch all the new creative avenues the class is taking. [One group of students] just produced a video, which we think will be the first of many.”
The students are equally enthused. Photo editor Rachel Fox explained that she took the class because of her interest in digital photography but discovered another plus. “What I really like about the class is that it’s less of a classroom setting and more like a community,” she said. “We can each be working on our own thing but then come together and have a discussion.”
M-A Bear News uses a WordPress-based theme created for high school journalism which the class modifies. Explained Snow: “Our webmaster Evan might say, ‘Hey what about moving the search window out of the banner, what about moving the live feed subscription down.’ ”
Every computer at the school is now set with M-A Bear News as its home page, and Snow credits the administration for being very supportive.
Adam Zuckerman is the current editor-in-chief and third-year journalism class participant. “The first two years we put out an 8-page newspaper once a month,” he said. “But now the whole approach to journalism has changed. We try to keep the quality up, and I think this year the quality is better. But you also need to learn to do things quickly.”
Like covering a plane crash in what could pass as the high school’s backyard – and finding an angle the the more established press missed.
Photos by Chris Gulker