OPINION: Yes, teenagers still read newspapers

By: 
Alexis Meeks
Staff Writer

It was Friday. A stack of newspapers were in my arms, staining the palms of my hands with ink. Shifting the weight of the 30 or so copies to my left arm, I knocked twice. I kept my hand an inch from the metal frame, but the teacher opened the door before I could reconsider the intensity of my knock.

I took two steps into the classroom and watched as the sunlight captured the attention of young faces. Not younger than 14, but still childlike in comparison to where I stood now — almost 18.

“Would anyone like a newspaper?” I raised my voice at the end, hoping my enthusiasm would sell the crowd.
Pencils stopped, feet tapped against the tile floor. Behind me, a photographer and a writer, both experiencing their first Bryant High School Distribution Day, raised their eyebrows. In one fatal analytical glance, they looked to me, the teacher and the students.
Zero hands went up.

So print publications are on the decline. I get that. With broadcast, online publications and new methods of receiving news through social media, less people are picking up a paper.
As a student journalist and an intern at The Saline Courier, I get to witness two different perspectives. I write for the school paper — Prospective — which has six print issues a year, and I am an editor for the online side of the publication, which has a new story posted on the website every day.

In both publications, the print coverage receives the most attention. Though national numbers put out by Pew Research Center suggest that print newspaper subscriptions are continuously dropping, I don’t think local print publications will cease to exist, as they consistently provide a local perspective for the reader, and communicate what happens and who contributes in their own community.

A local publication has one significant advantage — the stories they tell can’t be recreated by a bigger publication such as CNN or Fox News, because a local reporter can more accurately report on the local person’s experience. Journalism should be about telling a story or perspective from a smaller lens.
Focus on the individual. Write that narrative. Engage the community by covering the community.
The Washington Post does not know that a local physical therapist specializes in breast cancer rehabilitation therapy because her best friend is a survivor.

The New York Times does not know the girl from my school who feels racism in her community every day and who has been followed home by the police before.
But it’s not their fault, because it’s not their job to cover what happens in Saline County. It’s my job, it’s the job of the students who report for Prospective and the adults who report for The Saline Courier.

Of course, a publication can’t survive on print coverage alone. If print publications want to survive, the writers must rely on in-depth reporting and include snippets of the most important and relevant news.
And sure, it would be easy to send one of the broadcast stations to talk to a community member, but it’s difficult to get quotes that go beyond surface level when the cameras are always rolling, always watching.
This might just be my own preference to read than watch, and talk one-on-one without an audience, but words impact people in a way that the randomly placed shots and cheesy voice overs of a broadcast segment may not.
As for the students I work with, they love the print publication. They pose with the latest paper in hand, asking their followers on social media to pick up a copy and read their story or look at their photo. They are physically grasping their own words, their own time and effort pressed into the thin pages of a newspaper.

And suddenly it becomes apparent that maybe Distribution Day isn’t that bad after all.
Because wait, there was one kid who spoke up.

“We have a newspaper?”

Ah, the Freshman Flaw of inexperience. We were still in the game.

“Yes, written and designed by students.”

Kids in the first row hesitantly raised their hands. Second row student’s hands followed like dominos played in reverse. A few more shot up from either corner of the room, and as we began placing the papers on desks and receiving shy and mumbled “Thank yous,” I could hear the paper’s crisp opening.
The print job was better was usual, and the center spread touched on sensitive subject matter.

I walked to the door and took one last look at the students flipping through the loose pages. Maybe my stress-habits — the consistent twisting of my hair with my left index finger, the groans, my pacing across the classroom and the periodic popping of my fingers — is in fact worth it.
So long as there are people living in the community, there will be a place for them to be covered.
•••
Alexis Burch is a senior at Bryant High School and is an intern for The Saline Courier.

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