At the beginning of her sophomore year in high school, Eileen O’Gorman, who is 15, had an idea so old-fashioned it was radical.
She wanted to resurrect her school newspaper.
Born into the Internet age, Eileen was unfazed by forecasts of the demise of newspapers and undeterred by the fact that her school’s paper had died more than a year earlier because the newspaper class that produced it had dwindled to four students.
Her reply to the doomsday prophets:
“There needs to be news. Not only for students who are interested in journalism and writing, but there has to be a way for students to get to what’s going on in the school.”
I met Eileen recently when I was talking about journalism at the Kankakee Public Library. She sat near the front, with a pen and a notebook, and when she told me about her quest to revive her student paper, I thought her story was worth sharing.
Eileen attends Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School (“Home of the Boilermakers”) and lives in the village of Bourbonnais, an hour’s drive south of Chicago, out where the congested metropolis relaxes into small towns and open land.
Her father is an accountant at a tree nursery (“We like to joke that the worst wound he’s gotten on the job is a paper cut”); her mother teaches elementary school (“accelerated courses for kids who need more work”); and she has a younger brother and sister (“I love my siblings more than anything”).
In the O’Gorman home, newspapers are almost as basic as food, three of them arriving daily the old-fashioned way, hand-delivered, on paper.
“My dad loves to read the newspaper,” she says. “It’s kind of annoying how much he reads the newspaper.”
Eileen doesn’t love the enterprise that intensely, but enough that last fall, she emailed her principal, Brian Wright, about her hopes for bringing back the school paper.
“She is a sweet and unassuming young lady with big aspirations,” says Wright. “Her red hair and energy really stand out amongst the 2,000-plus students that we have.”
He agreed to meet with her.
“I don’t think he was quite prepared for how prepared I was,” Eileen says. “I had a PowerPoint and all these different ideas ready.”
Wright doesn’t like to squash the dreams of teenagers but, PowerPoint or no, he was skeptical. He told her she needed to prove there was enough interest among students.
So, with the help of an English teacher, Eileen put out a call: Are you interested in writing, Web design, journalism? Come to a meeting.
When 45 students showed up, Eileen joyfully texted her mom who, though happy for her daughter, knew something Eileen hadn’t fully learned:
Joy is an evanescent bubble.
The number of interested students soon shrank by half. There would be no newsroom, just a conference room occasionally on loan. No newsprint, Web only.
Untrained in how to produce a newspaper, Eileen typed “how to start a high school newspaper” into Google and learned the essentials that way, including terms like “sports desk” and “photo desk.”