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Monday, November 21, 2016

Shaker High School Newspaper Editor Discusses How Students Covered Last Week's Suspensions, Bomb Threats

Posted By on Mon, Nov 21, 2016 at 11:31 AM

click to enlarge The Shakerite staff (on pajama day). Nora Spadoni is in the middle row, first on the right. - COURTESY OF NORA SPADONI
  • Courtesy of Nora Spadoni
  • The Shakerite staff (on pajama day). Nora Spadoni is in the middle row, first on the right.
Recently, the student journalists of The Shakerite, Shaker Heights High School's newspaper, found themselves in the middle of story that was grabbing national ink. Two students were disciplined after exposing another student's derogatory statements about her black classmates, and — among several bomb threats and a schoolwide walkout — the ACLU got involved and demanded the school retract the punishment.

We and other local news outlets reported the story, but it was the Shakerite that had the best on-the-ground reporting on what was happening. We talked with editor Nora Spadoni, a senior at the high school, about how they got it done during the already very busy days of a high school student.

Tell me about the paper and how it works. Is this a class or an after-school thing? Print and digital?

So we're a hybrid; we have a website and we publish quarterly. And we're a class. I'm actually in class right now, just sitting in the office. We meet every single day, and it's during ninth period — though the period changes every year. In terms of when we have an issue that we're trying to get out, we'll have a deadline after school and that can go as late as we need to be here.

As the editor, what were some of your first reactions to the suspensions and to the talk among the school? How did you handle those first steps?

At first, I didn't think we were going to report on it because I was just hearing a lot of rumors. I didn't want to write anything that was based on things that had been flying around school that I didn't know were true. When I started to hear more about it and everyone knew about it, I ended up talking to one of the assistant principals and she was able to vaguely confirm what we thought. Then we decided to write about it and so we just did that initial brief.

During the bomb threats, the following Monday, we were all actually sitting in our classrooms in different parts of the school with the lights out, working on the story on our phones. We just immediately responded. We couldn't call people to talk to them, but we were trying to get something together right away. It was very immediate. We use Google Drive and group chat to keep in constant communication. I'll frequently not look at my phone for an hour and then look at it, and there will be 30 texts in the group chat.

In your time at Shaker, has there been another story that's been as involved for the staff?

I can remember a few times — actually, about a year ago, there was a similar threat on social media. They didn't call a lockdown drill, but more than half the school just left out of fear, I guess, and decided they could just leave school. We reported on that, and that was the subject of our next print issue. It's hard because the print issue doesn't come out until later; we can immediately respond on the website, but, for instance, this new print issue isn't coming out until after the holidays — like after winter break and everything for us. So we have to find a way to delve deeper as opposed to just writing news that has already spoiled.

Another thing I remember is from about two years ago. I don't know if you remember a teacher at an elementary school — a kid wandered out of her classroom. He said he was going to the bathroom and then he just left the school. The school wanted to fire her. I wasn't really involved with this, because I was only a sophomore. The managing editor at the time ended up writing an editorial that helped save her job.

So what's the atmosphere like at Shaker now? It's been about a week since the story began.

It's been tense. It's starting to die down now, but I remember especially on Tuesday when we came back from dismissal after the bomb threats, it was really weird. Honestly, it was racially tense too. I could definitely tell in the cafeteria there was this weird tension between different races that had sort of been augmented by what happened.

Could you elaborate on the ACLU's involvement?

That happened really suddenly too. The woman who wrote the letter actually used to be on the board of education here. I'm trying to get in contact with her for another story, but when that broke we got the brief up. I saw the letter and I was really curious to see what the school was going to do about it. And it was so quick: The very next day, the girl who was supposed to serve a suspension ended up getting alternative punishment. Boom, boom, boom. We had to get these stories up, and it kind of unfolded from there.

Is a lot of your work done during ninth period, or as reporters and editors are you sort of taking lunch or study hall to do whatever you can as fast as you can?

Yeah. I would say The Shakerite never stops. (laughs) Really, it can go from working on your stories during a bomb threat to being up until midnight trying to get something up — or days when there's not so much happening. But, yeah, frequently I'll have to come in during a lunch period or after school. We'll be here for, like, five hours at a time after school trying to work on pages for the print issue.

How big is the class?

It's big this year. The way it works, you have your freshman year and you take Journalism 1. That's like AP style and pyramid news lede writing — just basic journalism stuff that you need to know. And then you can be in the class that I'm in. This class this year — there was a large Journo 1 class last year, so this year the class is big. Maybe 30 students. There's not enough computers; it's kind of crazy.

What are your goals, as far as school?

I'm trying to figure that out. Journalism has been such an integral part of my high school experience, and I don't want to just drop it altogether. I don't know if I want to study it. I'm actually really interested in science, as far as a major. I think, as far as journalism, I could see it as a minor if that's offered at the school I go to — or just being involved in the school newspaper wherever I go to college. I just love — especially this past week, I just love being on a team and that sense of having the power to create dialogue and persuade people and effect real change. It's incredible.

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