Tyrone students take to journalism

TYRONE – In a classroom not far from the Tyrone Area High School’s main entrance, a group of students huddled together around computers to put together the school’s next scoop.

The staff of the Eagle Eye News commandeered the classroom they use, said adviser Todd Cammarata, but its members have definitely made the room theirs. Deadline schedules are hung by the door, the first thing the staffers see, and story ideas are pinned to a corkboard behind Cammarata’s desk.

The online newspaper’s eagle logo stares down the staff of 20 from the back, surrounded by a newspaper border. There’s a bustle of activity, but it’s low-key.

These kids have been around the block over the course of this year, and the response from the community shows they see the effort.

“I think they realize they’re kind of like real journalists,” Cammarata said.

Making strides

The Eagle Eye in its current form began about a year ago. It was a part of the English department before Cammarata, a social studies teacher with a family background in journalism, took over as adviser.

At that time, it was in the form of a blog. The English faculty took the project online after cost-cutting measures eliminated the paper’s ability to be printed on newsprint, and it was instead being made as photocopies on printer paper.

The newspaper program has grown significantly this school year. Last spring, when the website launched, the staff was just six students. They got about 1,500 page views on their various posts.

Junior Ari Scheidell, who was on the staff of six and now works with the much-larger group, said the difference is obvious.

“It’s a lot bigger and a lot more organized,” Scheidell said. “We get a lot more done.”

As of Wednesday, though, the Eagle Eye’s traffic was much higher. About 4,500 unique visitors have been to the site, amassing almost 23,000 page views, according to Google Analytics for the site.

“We built, built, built through March,” Cammarata said. “We’ve finally seen a leveling off, and I expected that.”

And now, the Eagle Eye is earning recognition beyond Tyrone. School Newspapers Online, which hosts the newspaper and about 1,300 student news outlets, Cammarata said, named Tyrone’s paper as one of its 2014 Distinguished Sites.

To earn the award, the Eagle Eye had to qualify for six “badges” in different areas: continuous coverage, site excellence, story page excellence, excellence in writing, multimedia and engagement.

A total of seven student newspapers nationwide qualified for the award. The Eagle Eye is the only site in Pennsylvania to be recognized this year. The award certificate is pinned at the front of the room, among a crowd of story ideas.

In a letter to high school principal Thomas Yoder, Tom Hutchison, co-founder of SNO, praised the students’ work ethic.

“I am confident you are aware of the outstanding work these students produce daily for their website,” Hutchison wrote.

The Eagle Eye’s quick success has also inspired similar newspapers at other area schools. Bishop Guilfoyle’s Marauder Mirror and The BluePrint at Bellwood-Antis High School are now online through SNO.

Cammarata said it promotes a healthy rivalry for the student journalists. especially because Bellwood and Tyrone are already sports rivals.

“We’ll have to see which of us has the best paper,” Cammarata said.

“We do,” replied reporter Carly Crofcheck, not missing a beat.

Getting the scoop

As of press time Wednesday, the Eagle Eye had 1,125 likes on its Facebook page, where Cammarata predominantly posts the students’ stories. They also have 246 followers on Twitter, were the students have more free rein.

Through Twitter, they live-tweet sports games and post regular updates through ongoing stories, Cammarata said. Tyrone alumni began to interact with the students through Twitter, thanking them for keeping the posts coming.

“I think that really inspired the kids to keep going,” Cammarata said.

Cammarata said that about 40 percent of the Eagle Eye’s traffic is generated by social media.

He said he thinks that the Eagle Eye has been good for the community, as it keeps parents and residents more aware of what’s going on inside the school.

Crofcheck, a sophomore, echoed the sentiment.

“It means a lot to me because I think a lot of people don’t really look at the paper anymore,” Crofcheck said. “The Eagle Eye is a good way to learn about what they’re doing in school.”

The Eagle Eye’s growing reach led to its first big scoop, which came in late January. The Golden Eagles’ football coach, Steve Guthoff, had resigned, and rumors were swirling in town that former head coach John Franco might be interested in returning to the post.

Franco reached out to the Eagle Eye’s staff first, responding to an email from Crofcheck and another reporter, Paige Umholtz.

His response, confirming that he might be interested in taking the job, was quickly posted online.

Crofcheck said she and Umholtz worked hard to report just the facts.

“It was kind of tense because you don’t know if people are going to judge you,” Crofcheck said.

The Eagle Eye has also worked to put together a number of contests to continue getting its name out among the students and Tyrone as a whole. In general, the staff has been successful at using these contests to attract visitors, Cammarata said.

“We’re trying to provide a communication link that was really needed,” he said.

Future plans

Cammarata said he has received 60 applications from students to join the Eagle Eye next year, tripling the size of the 2013-14 staff.

The Eagle Eye will meet during two periods in the next school year, he said, to allow more students to participate, but Cammarata will still have to wittle down the list.

The growth will also allow for some changes to be made to the staff’s structure. The student reporters were not assigned to beats this year, but Cammarata expects that to change. He said he’d like to expand coverage in some areas that the Eagle Eye has been lacking, like school board meetings, and enhance its already-strong sports coverage.

He said he’d also like to devise better ways for the editors and reporters to collaborate and communicate assignments, possibly through Google Documents or other cloud-based programs.

There’s a learning curve for an undertaking like the Eagle Eye, Cammarata said.

“I’m really just learning as I go,” he said.

Cammarata said he’d also like to create a position for a social media editor, to allow the students more hands-on time with the Eagle Eye’s Facebook page.

The students that plan to return next year also have lofty goals. Crofcheck is hoping that her efforts – she wrote more than 60 stories for the newspaper this year – put her in line for a promotion.

“Football is the big beat,” she said. “I’d really like to do some shooting for the football beat because I’m into the photography.”

She said there aren’t many other experiences like the Eagle Eye in the classroom.

“It’s different,” Crofcheck said. “It’s not like any other class.”

The paper’s expansion will all be in addition to Cammarata’s main job, as a social studies teacher. He teaches four classes a day for the department.

“I’ve been doing the same thing for 15 years,” Cammarata said, “so this is fun.”

Mirror Staff Writer Paige Minemyer is at 946-7535.