Teenagers in Journalism

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  the Illinois State High School
Press Association’s (ISHSPA) journalism
conference at the Illini Union along with
800 others students on Friday, October 3.
Surrounded by other kids like myself, I
attended sessions taught by members of the
local community, and keynote speaker Toni
Majeri, an editor of the Chicago Tribune.
The theme of this year’s conference was
“Do It Yourself,” which taught me and
other students the importance of teenagers
expressing themselves through journalism,
especially without the help of a supervisor.
The ISHSPA journalism conference
was organized by David Porreca, also the
advisor of the Uni High school paper, and
was funded by the U of I journalism
department. Although the first year of the
annual conference is unknown, it may
have started as early as in the 1920s. “[The
conference is] to promote scholastic journalism
throughout the state,” Porreca says.
“It does that primarily by bringing together
schools each year at the conference.”
At last year’s conference, also organized
by Porreca, 30 schools and 400 students
attended. This year Porreca was planning
for a turnout near that size, but representatives
from 59 schools attended, bringing
together 800 high school students. Students
crammed into the meeting rooms of
the Illini Union; some sessions were
moved to other campus buildings. Recently
teenagers have recognized the importance
of journalism because of the recent
war and unstable economy. Students from
schools as far away as Belleville West High
School, near St. Louis, and Hononegah
High School, near the northern Illinois
border, attended.
As the advisor at the Uni High Gargoyle,
of which I am a staff member, Porreca
is so dedicated he regularly skips
nights of sleep. This inspires students to
come in on weekends and stay after
school. Several years ago students used to
stay at school until 2 a.m. until the administration
found out and put an end to it.
The dedication of students to work long
hours, beyond the work required to get an
A, shows that, once inspired, teenagers will
take up journalism with an almost maniacal
Since the beginning of the conference
series the point has been to show that
teenagers should be involved in journalism.
Participating in journalism can help
students of any age or level of education
teach others of their experiences and try to
influence others with their opinions.
Because of new developments in technology
journalism is accessible to a much
wider group of people. Independent from
school, teenagers have the means of
researching the war on Iraq, writing their
own opinions, and giving them to someone
in a different country. Even ten years
ago, this would have been impossible.
The “Do It Yourself” aspect of the conference
is almost as important as getting
teenagers to participate in journalism.
Several of the sessions in the conference
were about publishing a zine, a “Do It
Yourself ’” magazine, and I saw determined
teens decide to start their own publications.
My friends and I are in the
process of editing our own zine. Although
funded by Porreca, we are not under the
close watch of an advisor.When teenagers
achieve something without the help of an
adult supervisor, it is often more beneficial
than if they were supervised. It is up to the
student to decide the audience of their
production and to make sure the articles
are timely and written appropriately.
Teenagers will be more critical of one
another, and by taking the advice of their
peers, they learn just as effectively as from
a teacher’s editing.
Sessions on the war and today’s culture
were well attended. The sessions taught
students that it is important for teenagers
not only to participate in their own publications,
but also to watch the news and pay
attention to media around them. Because
of today’s diverse media, teenagers are
bombarded with all points of view on current
issues. With easy access to television
and the Internet they can have the knowledge
to decide their political stands for
themselves. With speakers from media
outlets as different as the IMC and the Sun
Times, students at the conference listened
to a well-rounded variety of speakers.
Of all the teenagers at the conference
only a small percentage will seriously pursue
a career in journalism. But that doesn’t
matter. Every student who attended,
including myself, learned several important
things. I learned the importance of
the media, especially in recent troubled
times, and that anyone can participate in
journalism, regardless of their age or level
of education.More students will start “Do
It Yourself” zines or be involved in publishing
of some kind. Others will pay closer
attention to, and learn to be more critical
of, the media for the rest of their lives.

Maggie Quirk is a
junior at University
Highschool. For the
past two years she has
been a reporter at her
school paper, The Gargoyle.
More recently she
has worked for local
and national ‘zines.

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