By Michael Bloom
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer
Not many high school students take a class where criticism and backlash are as commonplace as formulas and midterms.
But at Carrboro High School’s student newspaper, the Jagwire, disclosure and deadlines go hand in hand for juniors and seniors.
“It was a very difficult week for our paper,” said Emily Vaughn, senior copy editor at the Jagwire.
In the March edition of the student-run paper, a map was published showing the layout of the high school’s lunchroom seating arrangements. Each table had a label corresponding to the perceived character of the students who sat there.
“The map was in the entertainment section—not to be taken too seriously—but it became much bigger,” Vaughn said.
Tables were labeled “jocks,” “freshman preps,” “ethnic beauties,” “senior burnouts,” “people who always leave trash” and “pretty little liars,” among others.
The caption for the illustration read, “The map may be one snapshot of the Commons (the lunchroom), but is it reality for you? Why be constrained by a label? It’s Spring and time to branch out.”
“We were amazed at the response from the map—it was intense. We weren’t thrilled that we were getting heat, but we were thrilled that it was making news and that people cared,” said Josie Hollingsworth, co-editor-in-chief.
The student response was like no other the paper had seen in its four-year history. A simple illustration of a daily setting caused an uproar the Jagwire staff hadn’t expected.
Faculty advisor and Jagwire founder, Jan Gottschalk, said students were tearing up copies by lunchtime. She said a ruckus had ensued and that students resented the illustration—one intended to be comical.
Gottschalk said that some students even refused to go back to class.
“There was so much turmoil that a couple of our editors decided to do a formal apology on the PA system one afternoon,” Gottschalk said. “The next day, we had a forum in our journalism class that filled the room. We had kids sitting on the floor talking about issues like diversity in our newsroom, the harshness of the illustration and the stereotypes that went along with it.”
Vaughn said the paper doesn’t regret the illustration. She said editors had to figure out how to make the students feel better about the illustration while still keeping their integrity.
Even after all the commotion, the paper doesn’t shy away from juice.
They’ve spoken with the school administration about student depression, interviewed a drug dealer and conducted a survey on anonymous drug and alcohol use.
For the next issue, they’ll focus on sex. They plan to do side-by-side editorials: one about waiting until marriage to have sex and one about not waiting.
“I think it’s important to delve deep into an issue,” said Mary Morrison, senior online editor. “And with sex, there is so much to look at.”
The paper is developed, written and published in class yet many of the editors come in on Sundays to help catch up. Gottschalk teaches about 35 juniors and seniors in what she calls a “production class” that meets daily in what they all call “the war room.”
Gottschalk said the paper needs to improve upon its diversity in staff, with only one African-American writer and three Latina writers. She said they are actively recruiting more diverse students for next year’s class.
The publication goes to print about once a month, giving students enough time to complete stories on deadline and juggle other schoolwork. The paper is struggling to keep afloat with funds because all advertising is student-run. Both Gottschalk and Morrison said the development of their online edition is crucial for the paper’s survival.
Editors say they love what they do, regardless of controversy and high stress. Vaughn said that she has stayed late after school copyediting, but it was all worth it in the end.
And with a 20-page paper on the horizon, they’ve got to be serious.
“I would pass up on other work to do Jagwire stories any day,” Hollingsworth said. “With a paper like this and a family like this, you wouldn’t want to pass it up.”
The paper is divided into five sections: “Jag Country” is where school news is reported, “Top Spots” is for features, “Roar” is the opinion section, “Craze” is the entertainment section, and the last section is sports. Hollingsworth said news values are hard to maintain with a monthly publication, so the paper strives to be a news-magazine.
Gottschalk said she is thrilled with the way her students perform, especially the editors. She said she tries to keep them motivated and excited about what they’re doing in the midst of all the other demands they have as students. She said she wants them to still have a life.
“It’s like a family because we’re working toward something together,” Gottschalk said. “And it’s like the best of coaching. You want to bring the best out of them, using coaching skills. So you work hard, then you find time to play hard and celebrate.”
Editors say Gottschalk brings a motherly affection to their lives. They said they trust her and trust in her judgment as an overseer of production.
“She was out of town last week, so when I saw her this morning she hugged me and screamed, ‘Mary!’ I mean, she’s my school mom,” Morrison said.
Hollingsworth said Gottschalk has a good read on the school.
“She knows what’s hot—she knows what’s not,” Hollingsworth said. “She can write six headlines in like two minutes.”
Gottschalk said students are proud of their paper and that the student body has also embraced the publication, even with a sticky relationship as of late.
“Students who are not a part of the staff still see something that they are proud to take home,” Gottschalk said. “It’s colorful, relatable and has a lot of stuff they enjoy reading.”
The paper is one of the most successful in the district—placing gold in a Columbia University award competition.
With a group of senior editors graduating in June, the Jagwire looks to the future to maintain its gritty reputation.
And maybe, more awards are to come.
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