Telluride teacher Laurel Henderson is making sure the future of journalism is bright, as her and her students recently launched the new student news website THS Today (thstoday.com).
The school had a newspaper last year in the printed Tell-U-News, but students this year wanted to create a website, Henderson explained.
“It’s their newspaper so I want them to have responsibility for it. I really wanted to raise the rigor of it, and have them make a product that they’re proud and accepted by the community,” she said.
The students recently took to the streets in an effort to sell ads for print editions; there are plans to print four newspapers this year, Henderson said.
“We were welcomed by the community,” she added. “I think that gave them some fuel for what we’re working on.”
In addition to school happenings and sporting events, THS Today offers entertainment reviews, national news, opinion pieces, reader polls, articles written in Spanish and videos, as students are currently required to write one piece a week.
“We’re just getting up and running. They’re doing a great job. There’s also a lot of room for growth, which is exciting,” she said. “I think they were a little bit nervous at first, but they have done well with the responsibility. I want them to writing a story a week. They’ve been stepping up to the plate.”
Henderson, who is in her second year with the district, is a former Longmont Daily Times-Call journalist with bachelor and master’s degrees from CU Boulder. She also taught in Ecuador, Carbondale and Aspen, where she taught similar journalism classes and created student newspapers. Having experienced the hustle and bustle of the newsroom and seeing the print journalism landscape change, she believes offering such courses to students is important.
“Journalism has changed so much. It’s shifted,” she said. “I just think it’s paramount that we’re offering it at the school, because if we don’t have young journalists what’s going to happen?”
From 2008-18, newsroom employment — which includes newspaper, radio, broadcast television, cable and other information services jobs — dropped 25 percent, from 114,000 employees to about 86,000, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. The sector most responsible for the decline was newspapers, as employment dropped 47 percent, from 71,000 workers in 2008 to 38,000 in 2018. The numbers are sobering. Last week, the new owners of Sports Illustrated laid off 40 employees — about half of the magazine’s staff. Stories of such layoffs have become more and more common, but there will continue to be a need for content producers.
THS Today has a staff of 14, including to student co-editors — a healthy number for a small-town news organization. Henderson explained she’s been going over every aspect of the job, from the art of interviewing to structuring an article and writing ledes.
"This class is amazing," Principal Sara Kimble said. "The students are not only using writing skills but all the steps of putting together a publication. In a growing age of digital media, these students are walking away with valuable career skills. We also have a strong emphasis on growing student writing skills, and this supports a different style of writing that many of our students haven't done before."
The student scribes have responded well to the task, Henderson added, and she is excited to see them find their voices. She als plans to take trips to regional news organizations.
“We’re working on their skills as budding journalists,” she said. “I have high standards and know the kids can rise to it. They’re doing such a great job. I’m proud of them.”