by Katharine Gillen
Every article starts out with an awkward stage—a point where the story is just coming together, and the lead isn’t there yet, and the quotes aren’t quite right. But if you’re a journalist at heart, you love the awkward stage—it’s where you get to help sculpt the story into something better.
Every Sunday, from 6 to 10 p.m., 25 Westfield teenagers take turns sitting at their computers hammering out the first drafts of the stories you will read in Hi’s Eye that Friday. For some of us, the pull of the story is so great that we go onto our staff Google drive and read the stories we don’t even have to edit.
This is the last time I’ll write for Hi’s Eye. Next week, the juniors will take over (partly to give them experience before next year, and partly because the majority of journo seniors have been diagnosed with senioritis). My staff and I have spent a year covering things that we think matter to you: teen pregnancy, the WHS dress code, Rich Out, food. We’ve sat at your sports games, at your musicals, at your club meetings. Well, today, for the first time, I’m turning it around—I’m reporting on us.
We’re all seniors—we have a million other things that are important to us: sports, sleep, chilling, college, chilling, sleep—so what is it about Hi’s Eye that makes Alex run straight from his track meets to the journalism room, grab a cookie (or five) and head over to the computer, still sweating, to edit his opinion page? What causes Michelle to make a St. Patrick’s Day-themed Hi’s Eye masthead in between her after-school babysitting jobs? And what leads Hailey, who juggled being an EIC and a captain of two sports teams, to show up at 5:30 p.m. in a mud-covered uniform to finish her Broadway play review?
I think it’s something we can’t fully describe. No, we don’t get varsity jackets, but we are a team. It took us a while to get the crew to row in the same direction, and of course we’ve had some stormy waters along the way, but we care about each other—and you. We feel a responsibility to ourselves, our staff and our school to put out a paper each week that makes us proud to have our names attached to it.
I sat down and talked to everyone on staff while writing this article, and everyone had different favorite memories, different excruciating deadline stories and different ways in which the paper has impacted them.
Carly said it forced her to do more independent work because she’s always expected to meet deadline. Caroline talked about broadening Hi’s Eye onto multiple media platforms (follow us on twitter at @hiseyenews). Kate talked about reaching out to people she never would have connected with otherwise. Sydney spoke about the mutual respect between advisers and students.
Mack, the stereotypical trench-coat-wearing, press-pass-waving, snide-remark-making journalist, remembered checking police reports to confirm locker-room thefts.
Hailey talked about how every Friday, we kind of turn to each other and say, "Huh, this turned out really well.” Because during the week it's hard to take a step back from the words and watermarks on a computer screen and actually look at the paper as a whole.
Fiona and Catherine reminisced about Zumba-ing together at the Westfield Y at 9 a.m. on a Thursday for an article. They were the only people there under 55—Fiona saw her mom’s friend (yikes).
And Teddy, who created the program for the district wrestling tournament, relished the sight of grandparents holding his finished product at the event, looking for the names of their grandkids who were competing.
But I didn’t talk to one person who went without mentioning the community we have created in Room 111. The support we have for each other is about so much more than writing, editing or deadlines, and in the end, that support is what makes this paper come together every week.
When any of us finally committed to a college, someone would post in our GroupMe chat congratulating them. That’s not something that would happen in my English group chat, or my math group chat. But with journo, it’s different.
When we all applied for staff positions last year, a lot of us felt like our role would be what defined us on staff. We quickly realized how much that isn’t the case. Everyone steps up and helps each other out, whether it was me going to a wrestling match on a Friday night to take pictures of sweaty boys tackling each other in minimal clothing, Abbie spending hours coding the Hi’s Eye website from home, Catherine organizing survey data on a coach bus on the way to a marching band competition, or Fiona coming to workday after being concussed in gym pickleball just because she wanted to check in. Erin even braved middle-school herds to get interviews for an article about them invading downtown on Fridays. (We’re surprised, yet very thankful, that she made it back alive.) As Jon said, and I’ll quote him because he said it so beautifully: “I have things with my name on it, but I know it’s only there because everyone else contributed to it, too.”
When the Great Cell-Phone Purge of 2016 occurred, we all scrambled to get information and quotes and compile them into a front-page story. On deadline Wednesdays we all sit, copy-edit, name-check, circle forbidden Oxford commas that slipped in and name-check again. When I put Jon’s hair in a man bun for an article about the “hottest trends of 2016,” we all crowded around Caroline as she snapped that photo.
Yeah, we wrote articles about man buns, avocados and Crocs being back in style. Julia modeled those Crocs for a picture and then wouldn’t take them off—none of us complained. But Chanel also wrote about Math Teacher Ms. Culjak, who is a refugee from Bosnia and whose best friend was killed in the Balkans War. We wrote about the presidential election. We pushed limits by investigating why the majority of students failed PARCC, how substance use plays out among WHS students, whether student athletes are committing to colleges too early, why a controversy regarding censorship and student art erupted.
We always have to balance this, though, with a sense of ethics, and a sense of responsibility. We are the only uncensored student-run newspaper in New Jersey, and with that comes high expectations and an air of professionalism.
When Rowan, Shanna and Jared made special edition programs for the WHS football team’s state championship game, many of us eagerly sold those copies to parents and fans in the crowd. Jared said how cool that experience was for him, because we were in MetLife Stadium and he felt like he was working for a legitimate news company.
The bonds we have formed with our advisers go beyond anything I have ever experienced in another class. Sydney remembered that when Mr. Hynes found out she had chosen to attend Boston University, he pulled her aside and showed her a bunch of museums to visit in Boston, making sure that they were within walking distance. Our relationships are more than teacher-student; we are friends and they are interested in aspects of our lives other than journalism.
It’s hard for all of us to not form bonds like that when we are sitting in school at 7 p.m. on a Monday night, staring at computer screens trying to cut one more word from an article (7 p.m. on a Monday night is when many of our true colors start to show). When Tori starts speaking in accents, Jon starts throwing the F-Bomb around, Claire starts hoarding cookies in the corner and seemingly sweet Olivia’s savage side comes out, we know it’s that time. Luckily, the quote board hanging by the computers lets us document the funniest, most ridiculous things that are said so that we can fill in the rest of the class the next morning.
Many of us have specific reasons as to why we ended up here. My dad is a journalist, so I grew up with foreign policy debates being the topic of conversation as I ate my mac & cheese at the dinner table. Rowan has loved reading sports articles since he was three so he knew that he could use Hi’s Eye to actually be the one behind the bylines. Once Molly saw Almost Famous, a movie about a music fan who gets an assignment from Rolling Stone, she decided that writing for a paper was the best way to combine her love for music and writing (and now she wants to work for Rolling Stone one day). Sarah was so determined to take journalism in high school that her guidance counselor accidentally put her into the Journalism 1 class as a freshman, and when she started J2, Ms. Scimone specifically remembered her as that freshman who somehow got into her J1 class.
Some of our love for journo, however, developed by pure chance (fate, maybe?). Like Jon, who for his electives in eighth grade, could pick between woodshop and journalism. He wanted woodshop so badly, and cried when he got journalism. But over the year, 14-year-old Jon discovered his love for journo, a love that brought him to Room 111 and has now inspired him to study journalism in college.
In the end, through multiple journo promposals, pizza orders and run-ins with administration, this room has become a homebase to all of us. We have ballet dancers, tech gurus, captains of sports teams, artists, Trump supporters and Bernie fans. In three months, we will all be heading off to different parts of the country; some to study journalism, and some to study biology or computer science.
But wherever we go in life, there are pieces from this school we can all take with us, whether it’s sports, theater, art, a club, or that teacher who made you genuinely excited to come to class each day. For me, and everyone on Hi’s Eye, this paper will be that piece we keep in our pockets. A newsroom that felt like work and home at the same time. A place where we came together as a staff, as a family, to make this happen.