Two Thumbs UP: High schooler starts own paper

Colin Moyer, 18, has no current plans to become a professional journalist but felt it was his civic duty to start his own independent newspaper at his high school.Curtis High School in University Place, Wash., has not had a school newspaper for four years, according to the principal and Moyer. So when Moyer went to Principal David Hammond in April 2008 to tell him he wanted to spearhead the effort to create the publication, Hammond had no objections.”I talked to him about why we don’t have a paper and if he had some interested kids, then we could probably find somebody to run the school paper,” Hammond said. “And he didn’t want to do that. He wanted to do it this way, kind of outside the school.”Moyer said he has not had any problems yet, and that his teachers have spoken to him and his staff about how they support his efforts.Moyer said he decided to create the paper after a separate issue with the school made him feel that a student voice was needed at the school. He said he determined it was easier to start an independent paper because administrators and former advisers made it sound too difficult to start one in school.So, with his final year at the high school coming up and with no prior experience in journalism, Moyer started planning at the end of the 2007-08 school year to find students and organize an effort. He went to the Washington Journalism Educators Association conference and spoke with journalism advisers at other schools to learn the methods of putting a print newspaper together.While at the conference, Moyer said he picked up a business card of a company he felt would do a good job printing the paper. He then put out a business letter and started meeting local businesses to get advertising to support his cause. He also created a mission statement, journalistic ethics policies for his staff to follow and a “statement of freedom,” which was crafted with First Amendment protections in mind.On Aug. 19, a few weeks after the conference, the Viking Underground was born. Its motto: “For the students, by the students.”The paper came at a cost, though. He had little time to attract advertisers for the first issue to pay for the printing costs, so Moyer used the money he earned over the summer. With that, he was able to get 750 copies for the first issue and hand out 650 copies during the school’s registration day before the school year officially began.”We got not one single, negative reaction,” Moyer said. “But we didn’t have anything in the first issue that would make administrators unhappy.”Moyer does not take all the credit though. He said his “right-hand woman,” fellow senior Juliya Ziskina, does a great deal of the work. As the managing editor, she shoots and edits photos, draws cartoons and designs graphics. She also created the paper’s Web site.Ziskina, 18, said she heard about the idea of starting a newspaper from a teacher in her English class.”I really, really like it,” she said. “This is one of the things I’m passionate about. I don’t know why, but there’s just something about it that I like.”Ziskina said the staff has not heard any objections from administrators at the school, but said they were prepared for such a conflict.”Even if they did, they couldn’t do anything to stop us,” Ziskina said. “Since we’re underground, we’re protected by the First Amendment. And, besides, we’re responsible not to write anything inappropriate.”Hammond said he was a little uncomfortable after hearing the description of the paper but kept an open mind. He said he understood the school’s rights to determine the manner of distribution for the paper, and as long as it did not “disrupt the educational process,” he had no problems.”When you have something called an ‘underground newspaper’ and you’re a high school principal, obviously there are some concerns,” Hammond said. “But Colin is doing a great job, and one of his goals, if you look at the Web site, is to be fair and balanced. He’s a very ethical young man, so I don’t have any issues with that.”He admits, though, if the paper had content in it that he felt was unethical, then he would tell the students they would not be allowed to hand the papers out during school hours but would still be able to do so outside of school.”I told him that I would be looking at the content, and I would want the first copy to review before he hands it out because if there’s a story in there that’s favorable I don’t have a problem with that,” Hammond said. “But if it’s unfavorable and they haven’t thoroughly researched both sides and aren’t representing both sides, I do have a problem with that.”But Hammond remains optimistic saying the superintendent of the school district has seen the paper and showed her support to Moyer by e-mailing him and praising him for his work.Ziskina said the staff has not had any ethical or legal concerns.”A lot of it, at least to me, seems like common sense, stuff that you can and can’t put in it,” she said. “But if we do have advice issues, I know we have the SPLC.”The staff hopes the paper will survive through next year when Moyer, Ziskina and the majority of the staff graduates. They plan on having a recruiting cycle of sophomores or juniors to take on the paper.Moyer said other students who are interested in starting their own publications should be prepared to dedicate much time and effort to it.”I would tell them if you really want to do this, don’t do it half way,” Moyer said. “You have to really go all the way into it and find people that are really strong leaders for your staff.”He said he still has time for a personal life and not all is dedicated to just the newspaper. He said his grades have not been affected and credits organization.