Young people don’t read newspapers. The future of the print press looks bleak.
Flying in the face of those beliefs, outlined against a generally depressing outlook for the printed word, is a sliver of hope and optimism provided by the young journalists of The Quill, Greenport High School’s student newspaper.
The Quill, whose roots can be traced back to at least 1915, when it was called The Purple Quill (the school’s colors are purple and gold), can mark 2020 as a milestone year. Not only was The Quill, classified as a school club, granted approval in early October to run virtually, but it has taken a big step forward. Despite a global pandemic, some of its staff members opting for remote education and the staff having never met together physically, the paper launched its website Nov. 6.
It will go down as one of the legacies of The Quill’s editor-in-chief, senior Liam Rue. Now, instead of publishing only four print issues a year, the paper has gone digital. That means fresh news can now be posted on the internet before it becomes stale. As a result, Liam said, that has increased the quality, quantity and relevance of articles.
“We had just come to the realization that by being forced to only put out print issues every season, it just prevented articles from coming out in a timely fashion,” he said in a phone interview. Being limited to timeless feature articles under the old print-only scenario, he said, “led to a decrease not only in quantity but also in quality. Now that we have a website where we just publish articles on a rolling basis, we can publish an article a day after the event happened. And our analyses and various opinion pieces can be a lot more relevant.”
Developing a digital presence was something the paper’s staff had talked about for a couple of years. Much of the credit for the creation of the website has gone to senior Kai Kaufman, the website director, as well as Ryan Case, the school’s assistant superintendent for technology, and Kaitlin Daniels, The Quill’s new faculty adviser.
“As soon as we got that approval, the kids just really did an amazing job writing, editing and researching and getting the website ready to go live,” Ms. Daniels said. “We’re hoping to update it on a fairly regular basis.”
The print edition hasn’t been forgotten, either. Ms. Daniels said the goal is to produce four issues of the print paper this school year.
Liam is in his fourth year with the paper and now heads a team of about 12. After starting as a staff writer, he rose to the top editing position last year. “He is amazing and he is such a talented writer and a very hard worker,” said Ms. Daniels, also an English teacher in the school.
Not surprisingly, the website has been covering the major story of 2020: COVID-19’s attack on humanity. As part of its coronavirus coverage, The Quill has run stories about how COVID-19 has affected the college application process, brought about intramural sports, examined how horseshoe crab blood is being considered for use for a vaccine and run a piece about what it’s like to be a fully remote student.
Other topics have been covered, too, such as an examination of the Nancy Goroff/Lee Zeldin race for Congress and how it reflects the larger political divide across America; a historical piece on the unlikely civil rights figure of former President Lyndon B. Johnson and how his legacy doesn’t necessarily encompass just how progressive he was. One can also expect to find a review of the play “Hamilton,” video game reviews and both faculty and student editorials.
“I’m just really blown away by the quality of the work, the quality of the research in the research articles and just the students’ overall enthusiasm,” Ms. Daniels said. “Quite frankly, it’s made my job very easy. I don’t have to track down articles. They want to write and they want to get their opinions and voices out there.”
Finding story ideas hasn’t been a problem. One of the strategies The Quill has employed — which seems to be working — has been to let its reporters write about what they are interested in. “We really just let students just write what they want to write because our priority right now is being able to recruit people and, you know, have people enjoy what they write,” said Liam, who can see himself pursuing a career in politics one day.
Ms. Daniels said she speaks daily with Liam and Kai and hasn’t seen their enthusiasm wane. The staff meets once a week virtually to discuss articles being worked on. Last month they met at 7:30 a.m. on Wednesdays since they couldn’t meet after school because of conflicts with intramural sports and SAT review sessions.
Kai, the tech-savvy site director, is looking into how to archive articles so they will be accessible for future generations.
Does what’s happening at The Quill bring hope for the future of newspapers?
Ms. Daniels believes it’s a sign of renewed interest in journalism. “Since we put out the digital issue, I’ve had students email me, saying they want to be a part of it and they want to join it,” she said.
Liam doesn’t believe most students are inclined to go out of their way to read newspapers. However, in the case of The Quill, he believes news and the digital technology to deliver it are making a difference.
“I think the current events of the last few years have really made students more engaged in current events and particularly politics,” he said. “… I think there are also a lot of kids who have become a lot more interested in writing for the paper and really making their voices heard and just having a say in the current events of today.”
Kai, who also writes articles for The Quill, has worked on website design and development for seven years, but this was the first time he worked on a news website. He said, “I’m pretty optimistic about the future of The Quill and its online presence and hopefully it inspires more people to contribute.”