This story was originally published in the spring 2012 issue of Harker Quarterly.
Harker’s journalism program began as a club, grew quickly and steadily, and for the past eight years has been a full- fledged period 7 option course putting yearbook and newspaper production, design and editing in the hands of students. The program, led by Chris Daren, has gained national recognition, sent its students across the globe and helped at least one alumna find her niche – she has just been hired by one of the most prestigious newspapers in the country.
The newspaper, The Winged Post, and the online presence, TalonWP.com, and the students who run them have enjoyed some well-deserved recognition in the past several years. In 2009, participating in the Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s (CSPA) summer journalism camp in New York, several students won awards, including Mahum Jamal, then grade 12, who won Top All-Around Journalist.
In 2010 The Winged Post won a Silver Crown and TalonWP.com won a Gold Crown from the CSPA for excellence in writing, coverage and content. The Gold Crown is the highest recognition given annually by the CSPA, which recognizes student print or online media for overall excellence. In 2011, TalonWP.com took home the Silver Crown.
The journalism program also features some amazing working retreats. During the summers of 2008 and 2010, Daren took students to Maui, Hawaii, for a training camp and retreat. The budding journalists interviewed locals and posted trip articles online; they also, of course, managed to fit in some surfing and snorkeling.
In summer 2011, the group, assisted by English teacher Pauline Paskali, traveled to Europe, where they learned and wrote about the continent’s rich culture and history. The group began their journey in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, where they interviewed the country’s minister of tourism, energy and industry, and took in breathtaking sights like Skógafoss Falls and the Sólheimajökull glacier.
Next up was England, where veteran New York Daily News and Associated Press photographer Harry Hamburg regaled the group with anecdotes and journalistic know-how. Hamburg later visited Harker to give a lunch-time lecture to the student body, and he was also the keynote speaker for the Quill and Scroll induction ceremony in early March.
While in London, the students interviewed Member of Parliament Yasmin Qureshi of the Labor Party and saw the House of Commons and House of Lords in session. Also on the itinerary were Venice and Paris, each explored, photographed and written about by the avid news seekers.
The journalism program is open to all upper school students by an application process. Students come away with an understanding of basic journalism law, and practices and skills used by journalists. Emphasis is placed on styles of writing, photojournalism and design.
Students choose whether to pursue the yearbook or newspaper concentration or both; the classes combine theory with real-time application to better understand the dynamic journalistic environment of the outside world. Within the program, students in the newspaper concentration are responsible for writing, photographing, editing, designing, posting and laying out the The Winged Post.
The online news site, TalonWP.com, is a joint venture by the entire journalism program, with all students and editors contributing to the website. The site was completely designed with code by Devin Nguyen, grade 12, and has recently been nominated for a Gold Crown from CSPA and a Pacemaker Award from the National Scholastic Press Association.
Jackie Jin, grade 12, editor- in-chief of TalonWP.com, admits there are challenges to keeping the news website fresh. “The hardest part of keeping TalonWP up to date is probably just keeping up with all the events that happen at Harker,” says Jin. “There’s always so much going on, and there’s definitely some organization required in making sure we not only get everything covered, but that the content is timely and relevant.” To keep the gears turning, Jin says TalonWP “started a system that has two journalists, one from Talon and one from Winged Post, covering every weekday. This ensures that major news events get covered, and also gives both programs equal representation on the site.”
Students in the yearbook concentration are responsible for the writing, editing and photography of the pages for Harker’s yearbook, The Talon, which means year- round photography and story gathering and editing. In addition to learning a variety of writing styles and current design trends, students learn how to use the latest in desktop publishing software.
Jennie Xu, grade 12, is the current editor- in-chief of the Talon yearbook. “Journalism has developed not only my writing and photography abilities but also my interpersonal skills. In the journalism room, we share a sense of camaraderie, and we call ourselves the journalism family. Outside the classroom, being part of yearbook has encouraged me to attend sporting and performing arts events of all kinds, ones I probably wouldn’t have experienced if it weren’t for the pages I worked on.”
Another part of the journalism experience is a chance to interview world-renowned luminaries. In the past, students have inter- viewed politicians like Senator Dianne Fein- stein, Gavin Newsom and Kofi Annan; entertainers such as JJ Abrams, Harrison Ford and Diane Lane; and sports figures such as Billie Jean King, Kristi Yamaguchi and members of the San Jose Sharks hockey team.
There is also an advanced course within both the newspaper and the yearbook concentrations, which is designed for editors. All courses are year-long, and because they are extra period option courses, students may take them in addition to their full academic loads.
“I got my first taste of what it’s like to be an editor from Harker’s yearbook program,” said Emily Chow ’08, who just graduated from the acclaimed Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. “It was the first time I had to make tough decisions, step into some big shoes and really learn how to edit critically and how to manage a group. I’ve held several editor positions in my four years at Northwestern, and each experience has built on top of the Harker experience.”
The journalism program evolves each year. New this year is a dedicated videographer/editor who shoots, edits and posts video to TalonWP in a matter of hours. The staff even evolved a whimsical magazine publication to enhance their skills, called Hatched!
Daren was first asked to take over the upper school newspaper program in 2003. “One of the most important things people don’t see is how much pride the journalism students put into their jobs; they take their position as the student voice of the community very seriously,” he said.
When the upper school opened, Daren started the Talon yearbook program with nine students. It has since grown from a club to an option course, complete with homework, quizzes, a textbook and tests. “They put in countless hours,” says Daren. “No one understands how many hours they put into producing the news and photos, editing, laying out the information for the print Winged Post, for Talon, for the TalonWP website and, now, for our video feed.”
With 84 students currently in the journalism program, Daren aims to make sure they leave his classes knowing that teamwork is important and that all the skills they learn are transferable to any career they choose.
At Harker, said Chow, “I learned how to interview, how to write, how to take photographs, and I learned to enjoy them all. I think my strongest ‘journalism’ memories come from the summer workshops we would do at Columbia or on our own.
“On my very first Talon trip, our peers taught us how to use InDesign. Chris took us out to the beach by our house in Hawaii to shoot photographs. In Europe and New York, he sent us out on assignments to interview strangers and we spent hours doing photo critiques.
“I remember attending Kofi Annan’s MacArthur Award ceremony with Kaytee Comée ’09 only because Chris encouraged us to tell the event coordinators we were student journalists and ask if we could attend last minute. These sorts of events meant that I stepped into my first collegiate journalism class with previous photography, design and reporting experience,” Chow said.
For students looking to pursue journalism in college or professionally, Harker’s journalism program is a demanding, but rewarding (and award-winning) choice. “The best part for me was learning to navigate these waters – from having an advisor I could speak candidly with to learning how to create a fun atmosphere in a high stress environment,” said Chow. “At the end of it all, it was the people I met that made yearbook and newspaper such an integral part of my high school experience.”
Chow, following her introduction to journalism at Harker and four tough years at Medill, got the payoff. She has been hired as a graphics editor (her college concentration) at the Washington Post.