Case in Point

For first time in decades, Wilton's school paper is no more


Take a moment and look to your right. What you see will be familiar to most, if not all, of our readers. It’s a newspaper display you can find in many libraries. The day’s (or week’s) papers are put into the sticks and they are on display for folks to grab and read.

The specific one you see there is the one that used to be in the Wilton High School library. I noticed earlier this year that the school was trying to sell it. In other words, get rid of it. Rather than let it go to a trash heap somewhere, I bought it. It now lives in my basement.

Is the fact that it went from decades of being the key component of a library giving its most relevant current events to countless patrons — to now living a quiet life bare and in my basement a sign of the times?

Based on recent developments at Wilton High School, it may like us to think so.

This job takes me to the school countless times each year. Many of those trips take me to the library. The newspaper rack isn’t the only thing that’s gone. Seemingly each time I go in there, more and more bookshelves are gone — replaced by chairs, tables, beanbags, etc. More places for students to sit down and look at their phones or laptop computers.

Wilton and Durant both have had 1:1 computer initiatives for awhile now. We live in an ever-changing technological world. I get it. I may have to be pushed ahead at times, kicking and screaming, but I get it.

At the start of this school year, Wilton made another interesting choice. As I’m sure our readers have noticed, Wilton’s high school newspaper, the Beaver Tale, is no more. I touched on this a few weeks ago when Durant High School began printing a resurgence of its school newspaper, now named the Durant Chronicles; more on that later…

For the first time in countless years, Wilton High School students will no longer see bylines in print in the Advocate News. Neither will their parents. Neither will their grandparents. Neither will their teachers, school board members or peers, neither will our roughly 7,000 readers.

It did not do away with its journalism program. It is still alive but has shifted to an online format called The Blue & Gold, a website where work from students taking journalism-related courses at Wilton will now be presented.

Before we get to that, a little relevant information. To the school’s credit, I’ve known this was coming for some time. I’ve had meetings and conversations with Superintendent Joe Burnett, Principal Marc Snavely and Curriculum Director Jamie Meyer. If the school produces a student newspaper, printed within an official newspaper like ours, the adviser must have a journalism endorsement. For the last few years that hasn’t been the case.

My understanding, after talks with Meyer, is that when the school hires an English teacher and makes he or she the newspaper and yearbook adviser, the state of Iowa will give that individual a 2-year temporary endorsement in order to allow the teacher to become certified.

In talking with current Wilton English teacher and adviser Kelsey Lockhart, getting the endorsement takes around 12-14 hours of college coursework. It must be paid for by the teacher and can be tough to work into a full-time “day job” of teaching. Lockhart recently started her third year teaching at Wilton. She doesn’t have the endorsement and the 2-year window is closed.

The school made a decision to re-name the courses and produce content for the web. Courses once called “Journalism I” and “Journalism II” are now called “Intro to Digital Media and Design” and “Digital Media and Design,” according to Lockhart.

That simple change, coupled with not printing in our newspaper, allows the school to have an English teacher without the endorsement teaching virtually the same courses.

When Lockhart was hired, according to Meyer, there were 12 candidates for the job. None had a journalism endorsement.

“My fear is it will become a revolving door of people staying for two years then leaving,” said Meyer.

In a recent meeting with Lockhart, I didn’t ask her if she would have left. However she did express her interest in continuing to teach at Wilton. This change makes that easier.

Lockhart has bought in. In our discussion early this week, I could tell that the Beaver Tale was a thing of the past. This site is the big new thing. On one hand, it saddens me beyond words. On the other, I’m happy the school is continuing with its classes and the site is well put together for being a “new” thing. And, like any website or social media platform, it allows for more colorful photos and videos. Things you couldn’t get in the Beaver Tale.

“Kids don’t look at (newspapers) as much anymore. They’re constantly on their phones,” said Meyer.

“The landscape of media is changing,” Lockhart said. “Our students are consuming information online and through social media … the kids seem excited about it. It’s dynamic. I view this as not the end of the Beaver Tale, but an evolution of the Beaver Tale. We’re allowed to do more here than we were able to do in print. Students are using technology a lot more today than in the past.”

I appreciate Lockhart’s analysis and words there. I truly do. I’m also happy the school changed the name. The Beaver Tale means more to me than anyone in the district will ever understand. It's sacred. I remember my first story and have a clipping of it near me at all times in my office. Writing for the Beaver Tale was the first step in a career path that I didn’t know I was on at the time.

Can the Blue & Gold provide that for current WHS students? I’d like to hope so. You can still cultivate news writing skills through a website. That’s my hope now for the students who go through Wilton in the coming years.

However, the truth of the matter is simple. There is power in the printed word. That hasn’t wavered in the 152-year history of this newspaper and it’s not going anywhere anytime soon. There will forever be an “official” quality in print. When newsprint stares back at you, there’s a finality to it — a feeling that will never come from a website.

I’ll stop there for now. I’ll admit that I’m still processing this. I’m grateful to the school for being up front with me as it was happening and, for the record, I truly enjoyed working with Lockhart and the other journalism advisers at Wilton over the years. She has passion. I will always be here for her and Wilton students.

To our readers, what are your thoughts? To the hundreds of Wilton alumni out there who always had a student newspaper, what say you? Perhaps I’m one of the few who made this my career, yet I’m one of a countless many that has scrapbooks full of Beaver Tale articles. I’m one of the many who had a family and community behind me all the way, seeing my byline in the hometown paper. It matters. My advice, don’t just tell me, tell the school district and its board your thoughts.

In the meantime, the most important thing is that our students still learn these important skills. They are more important now than ever.

Stay tuned next week as we shift focus to the Durant Chronicles. It’s off to a fast start! The second issue is printed this week and can be found on pages 7-8 and 12-13.