By Efren Ponce
In a recent editorial piece, the case was made to reinstate the journalism classes at Payton given the tragic reality of cuts happening across many high schools. As explained in the article, decisions made by the incoming administration following the end of Principal Devine’s term forced the Payton Paw Print and Payton News Network (PNN) to each become clubs run by students. The editorial presents a fair argument for the return of the newspaper and broadcast courses, with emphasis on the impact writing for the Paw Print had on alumni. However, as a consistent member of PNN during the 2020-2021 school year, I write this with the insistence that broadcast must remain a club. To be clear, I was not a student who took the broadcast class taught by former Payton teacher Ms. Mowery, so any statements I make about PNN are from observations and not from intimate participation in their creative process.
As a diverse class, PNN was able to release videos on a daily basis, but much of the finished products occasionally shown during advisory or watched independently by certain students showed no indication that broadcast involved heavy editing or extensive effort to produce. PNN videos were maybe shown the first week of school, but ignored by some teachers thereafter. I liked watching them each morning, but a sense of its habitual style grew unappealing for me, and I knew how to make it better. A repetitive segment that served no purpose, coupled with the same introductions and transitions time and again, created a reputation for PNN in my eyes that I would describe as “deliberately unprofessional.” I say this with no ill intent to criticize the work, and based on my individual views on PNN videos from previous years, they are at the same quality as those fully produced by students this past school year.
A class that provides school news through visual media at a high school level is all PNN strived to be, which is fine. Admittedly, some of those old characteristics were present this year, but members acknowledged when mediocrity was exhibited and constantly sought to be better. But the low demonstration of effort from before was an issue because it never made students like myself look forward to watching PNN. In a survey this year, some students revealed they never open PNN emails, which I comprehend because of my personal preconceived notions. The reputation of Payton’s only source of broadcast news limited its audience and made it more difficult for the club this year to promote content in the new age the news network has entered.
It may sound like I gravely disliked PNN while under leadership as a course, but I enjoyed some aspects of it. Its spontaneous student interviews and coverage of Payton’s goings-on were like a warm cookie — lasting only a moment but having a positive impact on any particular day. Once PNN can produce videos in person, these aspects will be present once again, so the absence of a teacher will have no effect on broadcasts.
Well into the school year, a special report about the diverse learners club Best Buddies from a previous year was shared with me as reference for a journalism contest, and it gave me a glimpse of what PNN could be. It brought together a positive story related to a club people were somewhat unfamiliar with, had a good balance of images and interviews, and its simplistically formal structure was one PNN members tried to replicate this year.
Had PNN remained a class taken only by student athletes and others with the space for an elective period, it would not have been able to undergo much-needed changes that made it more accessible to the student body, which resulted in a public image different from the one founded years ago. Improved logos were designed by Payton’s Graphic Design Club and used in rotation throughout the year. Most anchors made sure to sound less monotonous when presenting news. A standardized email blast was created to streamline communication between PNN and the school. Short-form “PNN Posts” allowed students to exercise their creativity while earning praise from teachers in the process. A new segment called the “Payton Podium” was started in order to highlight Payton Grizzlies with personal endeavors to promote. Novel efforts were made to increase PNN’s social media presence. The same old dry “Good morning Grizzlies” that met students every single day was done with, and in came more varied greetings. It is still not “professional,” but the increased level of dedication is evident. New voices, particularly those from female freshmen, other underclassmen, and an upperclassman who had not been able to participate before, shared what was bad, what was good, what needed to be done, etc. During a time when seniors who had taken broadcast the year prior stopped attending meetings due to lost interest, caring members kept trying to come up with interesting segments and enriching reports to produce.
The PawPrint is both a print and online publication, so it makes sense for it to be a class in which students can be exposed to new skills, while also being a club “where students outside of the class […] could work on articles,” as proposed in the editorial. Unfortunately, this system cannot lend itself well to PNN, since it would be more difficult to have separate groups of students working on releasing video content.
To put it into perspective, a typical PNN week this year involved a four day process. We met to discuss special reports and the week’s stories, chose the week’s news anchors, edited our script, recorded our video broadcasts, edited the recorded videos, and updated the official PNN email blast to send it out. It is a simple and stable system for producing content, though it needs to be altered for the next year.
Still, many changes were made for the better, and the established collaboration needed to run PNN was maintained. Having a class and club would hinder this environment of collaboration, creating two separate worlds for members. Paw Print’s print and online sectors would allow any student to have all sorts of articles published, from opinion pieces and satire to informative reports and pop culture reviews, but PNN videos require more uniformity. They can only be released in the mornings for advisory to maximize exposure, and only one video is sent each week in order to comply with teachers’ requests.
There is also the presumed necessity of having the broadcast class reinstated. A count of 106 students applied to take the class for 2020-2021, which, in theory, would equate to plentiful dedicated members. But this is far from reality, based on the amount of consistent members it boasted during the year, and the low response after the club asked interested students to sign up for leadership positions for the following year. I question if there was more than one executive producer—as the editorial suggests—given that an executive producer in the club is meant to oversee the videos the group makes each week, which in this case means there was only ever one active EP, Shaafi Flener. According to him, “Technically it is true that [former broadcast teacher Ms.] Mowery gave the roles to me [and three other students], but in actuality they did not actually do anything.” PNN had fewer club leaders than initially planned and fewer members overall, yet it was able to provide school news regularly, upholding the standards it set for itself.
Offering two broadcast periods like before would not result in PNN being made up of all committed members working hard to produce content. From my point of view, the class was one people would apply for if they had the availability, and stepping into the classroom one day, I saw some students working on the next morning’s video while others spent time on their phones. It showed me that a two-semester, ninety-minute class is not required to run PNN successfully.
To the Resh administration’s credit, the Senior Leadership Team did well at the start of the school year when AP Orosa, Dir. McKay, and AP Rowland attended the first PNN meeting to request that it be diversified. For most of the videos up until then, it was the same group of white male students presenting school news.
I speak on behalf of myself and other members of PNN that we do not welcome an English teacher to restart the broadcast class. The freedom for it to have been a club this year granted the space for growth. That said, it would immensely benefit from having teacher guidance, which proved difficult this year when the club sponsor was the head of the Payton Athletics Department. In an ideal arrangement, PNN would meet weekly during enrichment to discuss the following week’s video. In addition, a teacher could provide a lesson plan to the PNN team during an alternate seminar period. PawPrint editors took time to create their own thorough lessons to teach new staff writers, something PNN has not considered doing (with the exception of an initial lesson on conducting interviews).
Regardless, the club plans to keep trudging forward. As stated in the editorial, “This year, the Paw Print and PNN exercised resiliency [sic]. Both publications […] opened themselves to underclassmen members where only upperclassmen could enroll in the class, and […] became more self-sufficient and found inspiration to continue because of the new obstacles.” Without these obstacles, again, PNN would have the same practices as before.
New members are willing to ask for feedback and are always looking for engagement from students. Granted, a survey sent out to the student body and administration only got eighteen responses out of more than one thousand who attend and work at Payton, so the goal of making people interested enough to watch PNN videos regularly will always be there.
I joined PNN as a senior wanting to introduce new ideas into the club, and I graduated knowing my ideas will be the foundation for members to build on in the years to come. I too learned more about myself the same way former newspaper students did in the past, and I want others in the future to have this experience. Now is not the time for exclusivity in journalism.