An inside look at BSM’s journalism program

Arthur Boyle joins the journalism program in his senior year and examines its culture.

The+writers+in+the+journalism+class+sit+campfire-style%2C+brainstorming+ideas+for+their+upcoming+issue.

Grace Coughlin

The writers in the journalism class sit campfire-style, brainstorming ideas for their upcoming issue.

Arthur Boyle, Staff Writer

I joined journalism as a senior. I expected the indie, artistic crowd that the paper has been known for. When I started, I instead found a conglomeration of just about every high-school stereotype you could think of. The Knight Errant is going through a shift, but the culture there (here) remains the exact same. This is what I’ve found.

Jason Wallestad took over the journalism program in 2001. It was small then, about 12 writers compared to the near 40 now, and for a long time it attracted a sort of indie crowd that it became well-known for.

And then the Sean Simonson article. Three years ago, an editor of the KE wrote a controversial piece about the respect (or lack thereof) of his human rights as a gay man. The school removed the article from the Knight Errant website out of concern that the online comments on the article were out of control in their negativity, and the article, and its removal sparked debate and brought a great deal of attention to the Knight Errant. Ears were pricking up nationally; imagine the environment in the school.

The paper had become the voice of the school, and the staff since then has become even more diversified. It’s the same reason I joined initially, to be able to publicly display what I thought and why. “This is by no means the indie crowd. Honestly, it’s probably an over-all more well-rounded paper today, and that’s why we’re better than we ever have been before,” Wallestad said about the current class.

The past four years, the Knight Errant has won the National Scholastic Press Association’s Online Pacemaker Award, an award given to a small number of forward-marching high school news websites nationally. Evidence at the very least, that the journalism program is not idle time-wasting. “They’re nice to have, but they’re still shadows,” Wallestad said. A lot of things are shadows with Wallestad: grades, awards, statistics, but not necessarily real performance. “There’s something real about this class.” Something more than shadows.

Believe it or not, there are high-schoolers who are taking hold of their own learning process because they actually care about it. “Anne Arnason has a 150 percent in this class because she wants to be writing. That’s what I try to do. I try to allow genuine motivation to emerge,” Wallestad said. This is the secret to the Knight Errant’s success. It is not super-structured learning or unmatched brilliance. It’s a passionate, voluntary embrace of work. “I know that right now probably 50 percent of people in class are on task. And that’s fine. They’ll do their work later,” Wallestad said. And they will.

He makes sure they will. Wallestad is one of the main reasons the program works so well. “He’s the most and least intimidating person at the same time. You want to do a good job for him. It makes you nervous because you want to do such a good job, but at the same time he’s so approachable,” Emma Eldred, former online editor-in-chief said.

Wallestad’s passion seeps into the class, and it’s clear how much he cares about the success of it and the students. “He really just wants to make a good paper and get his students to do the same,” Eldred said. The students (especially the editors) don’t just notice it, they reciprocate it.

“A journo family” is how current online editor-in-chief Giulia Imholte described the program, one of the positions that demands the most devotion. The Pacemakers can somewhat attest to the amount of work that goes into it and what comes out of it.

It’s not something that can be done halfway, but the final product gains national attention, and she’s in charge of it. “That’s something I’ve really thought was cool, being a part of this thing that is so well-known,” Imholte said.

Imagine being the leading online high school editor in a world moving away from print. “If I decide to keep going with journalism these are the skills that will carry me further,” Imholte said. “Newsweek went out of print. Their online edition is what stayed.” It’s safe to say she’s not closing any doors, and she’s just the start.

Actually, more of the finish, as the editors would have nothing to do without passionate writers. Will Jarvis joined this year as a junior and found his niche quickly. “I stayed up late one night and wrote a story about Homecoming, and everyone told me how much they loved it. I realized hey, I’m kind of funny,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis has two humor pieces with over 1,000 views, his own advice column under the pseudonym Dr. Love, and ten pieces regarding hockey.

Jenny Krane joined as a senior and had always been interested in radio. Journalism would be a trial run of sorts. “I had the freedom to write whatever I wanted to write about. I didn’t have to do something current, I could go back and write about something in the past. I loved how I could get out there and put myself into it without saying I or you,” Krane said. She now plans to major in journalism in college, following the trend of her boyfriend Matt Muenzberg.

Muenzberg is a freshman at Mizzou and a hero at the Knight Errant. Last year during the success of the boys’ hockey team, Muenzberg resuscitated the KE’s sports section, gaining access to the press box at the State Tournament and publishing his stories next to writers from the Star Tribune.

“It sounds cheesy, but the state tournament was sort of a dream come true,” said Muenzberg, who would stay late in the rinks and stadiums by choice, long after games had finished, to publish his stories. His success at the KE and with the tournament pieces earned the freshman coverage of the women’s basketball team at Mizzou, clearly a sign he is beyond amateur status.

That’s pretty much the goal of every editor at the KE: “I want the [the work] to be as professional as possible,” print Editor-in-Chief Katie Sisk said. It’s not an easy goal to reach though. Getting writers’ work to be on time, holding press night until 11 o’clock at night, and trying to make the paper readable for potentially uninterested students are all part of the job.

For her, it’s worth it. “There are just so many people with stories worth telling that no one would know about if someone wasn’t there with a pen and paper ready to write it down,” Sisk said.

One of the questions I asked all students, current or former was, “When did you start caring?” It’s interesting from an outside perspective, because I assume they do care even though it hasn’t been officially established. None of them batted an eye.

They do care, and through their actions it is evident.

“I don’t know if [journalism] is the direction I want to go with the rest of my life, but I really don’t think I can let go of it completely after I graduate,” said Sisk.

The Knight Errant will compete for its (our) fifth Pacemaker this year. Whatever success does come won’t be from a group of people who are just good at publishing online newspapers: it’ll come from a culture and program that fosters strong, legitimate journalism from the ground up.

 

Editor’s Note: This story is the first in a new section of the Knight Errant called “Perspective,” in which writers will embrace the first-person voice and their own experiences as part of their reporting.