Sunset newspaper staff adapts to online format, working with yearbook class

by: TIMES PHOTOS: JAIME VALDEZ  - Sunset High School seniors Amy Wang and Amy Morales, co-editors of The Scroll newspaper, go over stories for the paper's next online issue.Often lost amid the talk and speculation about the younger generation’s devotion to digital technology is that many from its ranks truly appreciate the good old-fashioned way of doing things — and don’t mind combining the new with the old.

This is certainly the case at The Scroll, the student-generated newspaper at Sunset High School since 1965. Like many creatively based programs in the Beaverton School District, the popular biweekly publication and the class that supported it fell victim to severe budget cuts. For the 2012-13 school year, the paper was forced to switch to an online-only format, while the newspaper and yearbook classes — for the first time — were combined as one.

While a passionate lobbying and fundraising effort allows the Scroll to publish special sections, the long tradition of students perusing a hot-off-the presses Scroll was cast asunder. And despite the commonly held notion that young people get all their information online, the change was not particularly well received.

“The kids were super passionate about having some of their work published for print,” says Ellie Rozendaal, who teaches the newly combined newspaper and yearbook class of about 40 students. “So this was controversial, very upsetting and very disappointing to the students at the beginning. It was really scary to them, going online and not knowing what that would mean about being read.”

Tough transition

Amy Morales, who along with Amy Wang serves as co-editor-in-chief of The Scroll, says the loss of regular publication was a disappointment. She and the other Scroll staffers, however, are adapting to the new normal of digital news delivery.

“It’s kind of sad that we don’t have a physical issue,” the Sunset junior admits.

Amelia Turnquist, a Cedar Mill resident who writes movie reviews and columns for The Scroll, agrees the move away from print changed her outlook as a student reporter.

“I think it was a really hard decision,” she says. “That’s part of the reason why The Scroll was so fun. You get to see your work published. It’s concrete. You can see other kids reading it. I’m afraid not as many students read it as they did in print.

“At the same time, it’s a very practical transition that you have to accept,” she says. “Actual newspapers are going through it. I think it’s good to experience the change and prepare for the change.”

Wang agrees with her colleagues. Yet, after several months of delivering a primarily online product, she feels staff is making the best of the situation, particularly with the ability to put out special sections.

“The tangible aspect is gone, but we still got to retain the print aspect,” she says. “It felt really good and increased readership. I feel like now we have the best of both worlds, which is really nice.

“We’re more interactive with our readership,” she adds. “They can suggest stories. The interaction is much more fluid now.”

“Students like it,” Morales says, noting the powerful role of social media such as Twitter. “They can tweet about articles or click on a link and directly read the story instead of waiting till the next day.”

Making it happen

In a year that saw programs for library, art and music severely contract in the wake of $37 million in district budget cuts, the Scroll’s newfound adaptability was hard won.

“If they hadn’t worked hard to make the changes into something beneficial, we wouldn’t see the benefits now,” Rozendaal says.

The student-journalists rallied for a successful silent auction and began selling revenue-generating ads.

“We needed to justify having print, and convince advertisers to go with a new format. We had to think outside the box for funding,” she notes.

The ability to print occasionally leaves room to publish a holiday section or the Scallion. The annual April Fool’s Day student favorite skewers the school in the manner of The Onion, the hugely popular online parody newspaper.

“It’s really a tradition, our version of the Onion,” Rozendaal says. “Things like that, we can’t not print it. We’re not even going to put it online.”

Common ground?

Perhaps more controversial than switching from print to online was the budget-driven decision to combine the newspaper and yearbook production classes. As Rozendaal explains, the two approaches to storytelling and information gathering don’t make naturally good bedfellows.

“Previously, the yearbook and the newspaper were Montague and Capulet,” she admits with a chuckle, referring to the feuding families from “Romeo and Juliet.” “We learned that quickly the first day of class.”

Turnquist attributes the clash partly to a perception that the larger newspaper staff propped up the smaller yearbook staff.

“There were not enough kids to make a class by itself,” she says, noting the two staffs have meshed surprisingly well after last fall’s shaky start. “The yearbook staff didn’t want this either. But they’re still around, and we’re still around. Regardless of what the motive was, it’s excellent we’re still existing as a class.”

Rozendaal agrees, adding that skills from the newspaper and yearbook classes — integrity, responsibility, deadlines, working as a team — should be considered part of the district’s core curriculum.

“I think the skills students learn in a class like this are life-applicable no matter where they go after this,” she says.

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