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Dec. 2, 2022

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Prairie High School teacher looks to rebuild student newspaper

Falcon Flyer one of the few school papers left in Clark County districts

By , Columbian staff writer
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Teacher Patty Alway, right, talks with journalism students during a lesson on ethics at Prairie High School. The school's newspaper, which is among the few student-run newspapers in Clark County, is beginning a new year with a new staff. At top, a print edition of the Falcon Flyer, published in May, served as a testament to the year's senior class and the many trials and tribulations they faced during high school.
Teacher Patty Alway, right, talks with journalism students during a lesson on ethics at Prairie High School. The school's newspaper, which is among the few student-run newspapers in Clark County, is beginning a new year with a new staff. At top, a print edition of the Falcon Flyer, published in May, served as a testament to the year's senior class and the many trials and tribulations they faced during high school. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

High school newspapers have long served as training grounds for journalists, including many at The Columbian. Now these publications — known best for their coverage of the Friday night football game or student activism — are becoming a rarity in Clark County.

At Prairie High School, one teacher is seeking to revive interest and student participation in the school’s long-running student publication, the Falcon Flyer, after in-person shutdowns in the beginning stages of the COVID-19 pandemic halted its production.

“It’s really hard doing journalism remotely, and online curriculum became very disheartening,” said Patty Alway, an Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher who doubles as the Flyer’s faculty adviser. A graduate of the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication, Alway shifted in and out of public relations and journalism endeavors before landing at Prairie a decade ago.

This year, Alway has 40-odd student journalists split between two classes. None of the students have worked on past issues of the Flyer. Alway hopes to give students an introductory education in journalism ethics and media literacy with the intent to produce three or so print editions throughout the year.

“I run my journalism classes in two parts: essentially public relations for the school and managing an e-paper,” Alway said.

“Students want more than writing,” she explained. “With an ability to navigate and use social media, (students) are much more flexible in their consumption and delivery of journalistic content. Our production has expanded to include video and audio projects.”

Before leaping into production, however, Alway’s giving students the hard stuff first.

On Sept. 20, students in her 8 a.m. class learned about the one-party and two-party recording consent, speaking with anonymous sources and a handful of other lessons one might expect from a college-level course.

“Front-loading with this information does a lot to help them recognize the significance of this work,” Alway said. “Teenagers who get a lot of their news online or from social media might otherwise have a hard time differentiating between truth and rumor online.”

News media vs. social media

Just a few weeks into the school year, the effort already has helped the Flyer’s staff develop an understanding of what journalism really is.

“I figured a lot of journalists could write more freely, but learning about ethics is strange because it’s stuff you’ve never thought they had to do,” said senior Kaleb Watson.

Watson and other students give a similar reason for signing up for the class: first joking that they needed an English credit and then adding they thought it would be an opportunity to improve their writing and comprehension skills. Beyond that, however, some students added that in the era of social media it’s become harder and harder to recognize what’s true and what’s not.

“Social media makes things instantaneous. In some cases, people are asking for forgiveness instead of getting things right,” said senior Jacob Ciubal. “I think that you should always be trying to get it right. False information can affect someone’s credibility.”

Ciubal and a small group of classmates said the teachings in ethics help remind them that the process of prioritizing integrity can help counter an often lazy approach to news-sharing that they often see online.

“Consumers of media need to raise their standards,” added senior Julian Lopez.

Goals, challenges in production

After producing just one print edition last year, Alway hopes to publish as many as three or four this year with her new staff. While many students said they were looking forward to covering sports teams and student clubs that might often get overlooked, she encouraged them to think a bit outside the box.

“I want it to happen organically,” Alway said, in reference to her students’ goals in coverage this year. “I don’t want it to be just things at school but things that are happening in teenagers’ lives. Years ago when we had a string of student suicides that was something that the Flyer covered. That was serious stuff, all from the perspective of students.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge in production is one that’s not different from professional print publications: cost. The Flyer is printed in Gresham, Ore., for what Alway refers to as “a pretty penny”; the class uses a service to produce its e-paper and download curricula that costs $300 per year.

Elsewhere in Clark County, there aren’t many other publications like the Flyer. Battle Ground High School used to maintain a student newspaper but eventually concluded it when its faculty adviser left the school and no one filled his shoes.

“The program is the teacher for these kinds of things,” Alway said.

At Fort Vancouver High School, journalism adviser Jennifer Fay said she’s faced similar challenges since the onset of the pandemic in helping to maintain their student publication, the Fort Outpost.

“While the previous editions of the Fort Outpost were printed and distributed, we’re now using a popular online publishing platform that maintains the feel of a magazine or newspaper without the waste,” Fay said. “It’s also easy to push those individual stories onto the school’s social media channels so students find their community news in the same places they are seeing more local and national news.

“If nothing else, the electronic platforms serve as a place for students to see stories and discuss them.”

Back at Prairie, the students’ first assignment was to interview one another and put together short profiles based on five key questions they came up with. Alway encouraged students to interview classmates they didn’t know well for a more genuine process.

“It’s cool, might be a little corny but you find out you have a lot more in common with each other,” Watson said.

As the Falcon Flyer looks to the future, Alway hopes that she can not only put out an increasingly compelling product but help to garner attention among younger students who might be interested in writing for the paper and learning about journalism in years to come.

“Overall, I want students to be discerning readers of journalism,” Alway said. “If they glom on and want to actually do journalism in the future, that’s an added benefit.”

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