The Independent will serve as publication for student journalists

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Journalism students from Liberty Hill High School will become the newest contributors this month to their community newspaper under a unique arrangement between the school district and The Liberty Hill Independent.

Beginning Nov. 13, The Independent will begin publishing the stories, photographs, graphics and video generated by the 24 students in the school’s first journalism class. The student-generated content will appear in a special section of the newspaper clearly distinguishable from the news, sports and editorial content generated by the newspaper’s professional staff.

“I believe this is a wonderful opportunity for our student journalists,” said LHHS Journalism Teacher Vanessa Conner. “I really believe having their work in the community paper is huge. If students are simply writing in class, we are just another high school writing class, such as English. In order for students to understand and learn about the real world of journalism, their work must be published.”

Mrs. Conner, who was hired this year to teach journalism and yearbook, as well as three classes of English, has 13 years of teaching experience in the Austin and Round Rock school districts. She earned a degree in journalism from the University of Texas, then worked as a radio talk show host and professional journalist before working as an account executive for Dunn & Bradstreet and Dell Computers. She then entered the teaching field.

“Our class is about writing and reporting, but it’s also about doing the right thing, reporting information in a truthful and ethical way,” she said. “They have been given the opportunity to write for a real, professional, community newspaper. These students will remember this experience for the rest of their lives.”

Shelly Wilkison, publisher of The Independent, said the newspaper will serve as a real-time lab for student journalists. Beginning with the Nov. 13 edition, readers will see up to two pages of student work in most editions. The student content will also be uploaded to the newspaper’s website, www.LHIndependent.com, and will occasionally be featured on The Independent’s Facebook page.

Students will conduct interviews, do research and write stories as part of their journalism class under the guidance and supervision of Mrs. Conner. The class is divided into three teams and each team has an editor or team leader similar to a professional news organization. Members of each team are assigned to a beat such as sports, culture and heritage, student life, arts and entertainment and academics. Under the publication arrangement, each team will be on deadline every three weeks.

In addition to creating content for the student pages, journalism students will learn about the daily operations of a newspaper. While the process begins next week with writing stories and taking photographs, students will also learn how to design newspaper and web pages, and will have opportunities to see firsthand the process of printing and distributing.

“Our journalism students are a wonderful group of talented young people who are very excited about the field of journalism and writing for the paper,” Mrs. Conner said, “but they are also really interested in their community and the world around them. I hope to encourage this sense of curiosity and desire to learn about this field (journalism).”

Mrs. Conner said the arrangement between the school and the community newspaper is not typical. “Not many high school kids get to do something like this, and to me, as their teacher, this is a really amazing gift that has been given to them,” she said. “These kids aren’t simply writing for the school paper, they are writing for the real, honest-to-goodness newspaper of our town. I am so grateful to The Independent for its generosity. Not many high school journalism students ever become published in a real newspaper.”

Mrs. Wilkison said The Independent is providing the space in the newspaper at no charge to the school district.

As part of the program, high school journalists will often shadow the professional reporters of The Independent to learn more about the process of gathering the news and compiling stories. Mrs. Wilkison said the goal is to expose students to local newsmakers and governments to see firsthand how decisions are made and how those decisions impact their community.

Several in the class have also expressed an interest in covering local sports and will be mentored by the newspaper’s sportswriters.

In addition to the student work that will appear on the student pages, The Independent will offer two internships beginning in spring 2015 and a college scholarship will be offered the following year to students interested in pursuing a journalism education.

“We believe this partnership helps further our commitment to the profession by helping to grow young journalists,” Mrs. Wilkison said. “But more important, we see this as a way to give back to our community by helping to create career paths for students, which we hope may one day lead them back to Liberty Hill as professional journalists.”

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