A funny thing happened this school year. Both of my children – a daughter in fifth grade and a son in third – have signed up for newspaper clubs in their respective schools.
You’d think, given my profession, that their drive to join these clubs would inspire pride, the same feeling a pro baseball player might have when his child takes her first swing. I must admit there was a little of that. But what struck me more was a sense of amazement that any school would even have a newspaper club to begin with. I would have guessed newspaper clubs were joining cursive classes in the dustbins of grammar school history (Though, both of my children also practice cursive every so often, another throwback practice that’s a bit surprising.)
It’s hard for anyone who puts out a print newspaper today to avoid feeling like a door-to-door ice salesman a year or two past the dawn of the Frigidaire. It would seem newspapers are in the throes of a slow extinction event. Last week in this space I wrote about the massive layoffs experienced at The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Daily News. The days of print feel numbered, and the demand for professional newspaper people is practically nonexistent.
Why then have a newspaper club in the classroom? Is it not like teaching children to use an abacus? It’s interesting and useful but not even a little bit practical.
I realized, though, that my line of thinking was too focused on the product. Yes, the product feels out of date. Once, paper was the most efficient way to deliver lots of news to people. Today that is no longer the case.
But what still is useful is the act of telling stories about communities and recording them. In the case of my children, they will write short news items about what’s going on at their school. They will take pictures of their teachers and their friends. They will set these stories on pages they design and then hold the finished product in their hands.
For some, print still carries weight, both real and perceived. It’s one thing to have your photo online, but it is better to have it printed on paper that you can cut and pin to the fridge or to stick in an envelope and mail to your aunt. I still get the sense often when talking with people we cover – whether we interview them or publish their press release – that the act of publishing isn’t really “real” until that story and picture are printed on a piece of newsprint.
With that in mind, we’re happy to publish a pretty healthy collection of children’s work in this year’s annual Kids Edition. We have poems. We have stories. We have lots and lots of good artwork from students in Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and elsewhere. We know these kids who contributed will be excited to see their work in print. And we’re excited to print it.
And, as is often the case with the kids edition, we received a lot more than we can handle in one batch. Next week, I will be publishing some more work. We received a lot of good poetry this year, and I’d like to make sure those children who submitted it get the chance to see it in print.
The newspaper and the newspaper club isn’t dead yet. There’s still a place for pictures and words on paper.
— Pete Mazzaccaro