In a matter of weeks, we are set to turn our calendars to the second decade of the 21st century. Over the past twenty years, our society has become indelibly plugged-in.
In the past two decades, the technology that first allowed us to make calls without being tethered to a cable between phones has supplied us with computers in our pockets and virtual assistants in our homes.
In the modern world, everything from the refrigerator to the doorbell is connected, digitized and networked. But for a group of students at Watauga High School — digital natives who never lived in a pre-internet world — there is an appetite for renewing a long-familiar medium: a print newspaper.
Over the past three months, journalism students at Watauga High School have worked to revitalize the school’s newspaper, The Powder Horn. The publication, whose print edition has existed in some form since Watauga High School’s foundation in 1965, has been online-only for several years.
For the publication’s editor, WHS Senior Emma Shew, getting the paper back in print represents a way to reconnect her peers with the decades-old publication, whose traffic had slowed in its digital form. She said the work her classmates put into crafting stories deserved a place where they could live in perpetuity. A place where they could become a tactile part of the school’s record.
“We spend so much of our time looking at screens,” Shew said. “We have our laptops that most of our school work is conducted on, we have smart boards in every room. If we aren’t taking notes on our laptops, we are watching videos. You get tired of screens — you get tired of your phone. I think getting a physical paper will be a really great thing at the high school.”
Senior Ella Brown, who along with writing stories for the publication is tasked with assembling the paper for print, echoed her classmate.
“There is just something about having an actual paper in your hands,” Brown said. “There is something special about reading news from your community and stories about your peers in a real paper. You can see who is writing the article and doing the reporting and that allows you to connect with the stories on a different level. I didn’t want my writing on a digital platform. That’s not how I want people to see it. I want my writing on a piece of paper.”
But getting The Powder Horn back into print required more than just a desire to write and report. Creating physical media requires physical work. From the onset of the project, students led and carried out every small job that goes into creating a newspaper. From buying reams of paper, to searching for the right program to create print-ready material, to finding a printer that could handle the job.
Adrennie Stumb, WHS English teacher and journalism advisor, said her students had led the charge from the very beginning of the school year, doing extensive work to prepare the paper’s launch.
“The students talked to professionals who worked in the publishing industry, solicited advice from the previous Powder Horn advisor and communicated with our art department about the possibility of using existing school resources,” Stumb said. “This process and problem-solving were completely student-driven.”
Stumb said she hoped her student’s work on the school newspaper would allow them to explore skills that will follow them beyond WHS and into their post-secondary lives and careers.
“The traits of excellent journalism are transferable to so many other areas of life,” Stumb said. “Being able to assess sources, solve problems and communicate clearly are skills everyone needs to navigate higher education and the workforce. These students have seen that dedication and professionalism pay out huge dividends, and I feel that they will transfer these skills as they move forward.”
Brown said the process of transforming their ideas into a tangible product left the journalism class with a sense of ownership of the publication. She said the class hoped to see the paper become an outlet for everyone at Watauga High School, not just those studying journalism.
“We want people to be able to have a conversation with us,” Brown said. “We want them to have a say in what we cover. We want this to be everyone’s paper. We want our readers to get what they want out of the Powder Horn because, in a way, it belongs to all of us.”
For Shew, the Powder Horn has the potential to go beyond school and local news. She said she saw the paper as a way to show her peers the power of their voices — not just in Watauga High School, but in the country and the world at large.
“I hope getting the paper back in print starts a dialog,” Shew said. “I think that, especially where we are right now — ramping up for the next election — people are very polarized and don’t want to start a conversation. But I think it’s so important for us to start that process because we have a voice. We will have an effect on what is happening in our world. I hope people will be able to pick up our paper and say ‘wow, this is an issue I wasn’t aware of and I can do something about it.’”
The Powder Horn released its first print edition on Dec. 6, and plans to roll out twice-monthly issues through the school year. The paper is staffed by Ella Brown, Taylor McNulty, Bethany Hicks, Abby Graham, Lindsey Hicks, Emma Shew and adviser Adrienne Stumb.