Bethel Park student paper restored online
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The news industry has witnessed some dizzying changes over the past several years.
At Bethel Park High School, it happened in just two semesters.
The student newspaper has replaced advisers, welcomed a new crop of writers and moved solely online under the new name, Hawk Eye.
English teacher John Allemang didn't waste any time in the fall when he volunteered to advise the paper after the print edition, and the journalism class itself, folded in the spring.
At 26, he grew up reading news online and didn't hesitate to take Bethel Park into that space with him.
"I feel like we live in the 21st century here, in the age of electronic media. We're kind of moving away from a print form of things," he said. "You can reach a greater audience and also get more relevant information out there."
Hawk Eye replaces the 7-year-old Black Hawk Voice newspaper, which published monthly and discontinued at the end of the spring semester because of low student enrollment, school officials said, forcing an end to the journalism class.
Around the same time, a prank in the newspaper involving two staff members resulted in their three-day suspension, prompting Principal Zeb Jansante to review the final issue for propriety before it was published.
The new 11th-grade English teacher, a 2004 Bethel Park graduate, entered the district in the fall ready for a fresh start.
Mr. Allemang holds two bachelor's degrees and a master's, all from Duquesne University. He worked as a columnist and photographer for the university paper, where he learned how a newsroom operates.
Armed with a background in Web design he used to develop two sports team websites at Seton-LaSalle High School, where he previously taught sophomore English, Mr. Allemang suggested the Bethel Park paper move solely online and volunteered to sponsor an after-school activity.
His tech savvy has influenced his entire approach to Hawk Eye.
When trying to round up reporters and editors, he didn't just tape up fliers or rely on word of mouth. Instead, he designed low-budget promotional videos with a program on his computer. One starts with an old-school video game, in which a player delivers newspapers, then flashes to a screen shot of Hawk Eye, imploring students to join.
Sure enough, it grabbed their attention. The website now has a staff of 10.
The Hawk Eye website is hosted by School Newspapers Online, a Minnesota-based online publishing company that counts Upper St. Clair and four other schools as clients in the Pittsburgh area.
Hawk Eye can accommodate video, slide shows, polls and photo galleries. It currently includes a series of photos of the new high school.
The $700 start-up fee was cheaper than the district's annual cost to print one issue each month of the school year, said district spokeswoman Vicki Flotta.
The single holdover from the print days, junior Dan Telek, doesn't share his adviser's zeal for online news. Dan misses the print version but said it's his passion for writing that's kept him in the game, even after being involved in the prank at the paper last spring.
Dan, 17, said he's most proud of a sweeping piece he co-wrote on violence in the media.
"It was probably the most committed I was to a story," he said.
Since the group meets after school, there's no real news nucleus these days. Staffers gather in a computer lab on Tuesdays to pitch and assign stories and swap ideas.
"The idea is for them to completely take the reins," Mr. Allemang said.
After students submit their work, Mr. Allemang approves it, then meets face-to-face with the principal, who reviews every article before it's published. All edits have been minimal so far, Mr. Allemang said.
The practice isn't an effort to sanitize the news, said Ms. Flotta.
"It's not realistic to think that every article in the school newspaper is going to rave about how great the food is in the cafeteria," she said.
Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, told the Post-Gazette in May that, according to legal precedent, the principal can review the paper so long as he completes his review in a reasonable amount of time and refrains from excessive editing unless the material is illegal or would disrupt the school.
In Pennsylvania, the same rule applies to the website, even as an extracurricular activity, said Adam Goldstein, SPLC advocate attorney. Still, that kind of oversight can be tricky, he said, because the person reviewing the content may not have any factual basis for questioning.
"I just wonder what makes them think that's a good idea. It's like going to a podiatrist for brain surgery," Mr. Goldstein said.
Dan said he isn't bothered by it, though.
"If you take an ethical approach and you know what you're doing, everything's going to turn out fine," he said.
First Published January 12, 2012 12:00 am