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Students: It’s all about the community

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, Nov. 17, five students — from the Tyrone and Hollidaysburg Area high schools — got an insider’s view of the Altoona Mirror headquarters as part of the Blair County Chamber of Commerce’s Business and Schools Investing in Cooperative Solutions (BASICS) program. This is a recap of their time spent with Mirror staff and their thoughts on journalism.

Judy Rossi, the Blair County Chamber of Commerce’s curriculum development committee co-chair, said the BASICS program began in 2010 as a way to help students gain an up-close look at a career that interests them.

As high school students are looking to the future career-wise, the program offers them an opportunity to visit a job site and watch what unfolds, she said.

While the Mirror has previously taken part in the program and hosted students for the day, this year students became part of the story as they talked about what journalism means to them, and they also went out into the community to engage residents in conversation.

The experience was somewhat eye-opening, as several students said they wanted to make it big in the news industry, perhaps with the New York Times or the Washington Post. Most journalists start out in a smaller environment, though, and work their way up as they gain experience.

Insight into career

Jaci Bickel, a senior at Hollidaysburg Area High School, has always enjoyed writing and has often considered a career path in journalism.

With a specific interest in politics and wanting her voice to be heard, she said she wondered what the daily life of a journalist was like and what the job entailed.

Bickel and the other students stepped into the Mirror’s newsroom, the graphics design department and the print shop, which holds the Mirror’s two-story printing press, and witnessed what it takes to put out a daily, printed newspaper.

“We wanted insight into what this career would be like and to really experience what it’s like to work in this industry,” said Lexi Woodring, a senior at Hollidaysburg, who shadowed in the graphic design department.

Tyrone junior Libby Keller headed to the second floor editorial department to see how the paper is put together each day, while others interested in career paths as journalists took to the streets to talk with community members.

The journalist group — which included Bickel as well as Tyrone junior MacKenzie Hyde and Hollidaysburg junior Ivy Loya — were tasked with asking everyday people one simple question: For what are you thankful?

While they at first asked just the question to several people going about their day, the students quickly learned how writing is adaptive and interactive.

Questions of “for what are you thankful” turned into engaging conversations — with a local resident excited for her granddaughter’s engagement, a couple who are spending the holidays home alone and a first-generation American, who was just thankful to live on U.S. soil.

Community connections

Students found that newspapers serve the community in which they are located — from printing “good news” such as weddings, anniversaries, births and community events to “hard news” such as court happenings, fires, school board meetings and tax issues.

Bickel said she thinks the group learned that “a newspaper can’t be self-sufficient. It relies on the people in the community.”

She also feels a newspaper should reflect the interests of the community.

“The community should definitely be represented in the paper, especially with a local paper like this,” Bickel said of the Mirror.

While Bickel said her aspirations as a future journalist revolve around politics and opinion sections, she said the job shadowing opportunity showed her that no matter what path she takes in journalism, the community should always come first.

Hyde aspires to be a community reporter, noting that in Tyrone, “the small-town atmosphere is really strong, and I like seeing how everyone comes together for community events.”

“I was always interested in community news, and coming into the Mirror, I was really interested to see how newspapers really engage with their communities,” she said.

Several students have already taken the first steps in their journalistic careers.

Hyde is the feature editor of the Tyrone Eagle Eye News, a student-led [online?] newspaper at the high school.

“This has really helped me solidify that this is what I want to do,” Hyde said. “It’s shown really how much I appreciate journalism and how much I like it. I really want to do it as a career.”

Loya has worked on her craft a little more privately.

An art and music enthusiast, she spends much of her time writing and expressing her feelings about the things that move her in life.

“Journalism has always interested me,” she said. “I’ve always liked to write, and I wanted to see what it would be like to write as an actual job. I think today (Nov. 17) really showed me how everything works and what the life of a journalist is actually like.”

Keller shadowed the editorial department and saw how the newspaper is checked for spelling, grammar and accuracy.

She then had the chance to experiment with the design aspect of the paper and was shown how all the stories and photos are collected and how pages are created.

“It’s interesting to see how everything is finalized and tied together,” Keller said. “It’s really cool to see how the paper was put together.”

Keller is currently mulling a degree in either English, literature or linguistics, but her end goal is to become a writer in “some capacity.”

“I think journalism is a really important job, and it’s really interesting,” she said.

Woodring saw the newspaper process from a different angle in the Mirror’s Ad Center, where she observed how graphic designers take a business’ message and develop ad blocks.

Journalism is not at the top of Woodring’s list, with her goals aimed more toward marketing and communications.

The shadowing event at the Mirror, however, opened her eyes to additional career choices.

“It was cool to see that it really is a wider branch of communications and marketing,” Woodring said. “It was a neat experience.”

Thankful for family

After a day of asking members in their community about what they are thankful for, the roles for the prospective reporters were reversed and all the students were pressed with the same question, “for what are you thankful?”

After a difficult year due to COVID-19, Keller said that aside from her family, she is most thankful to be back in school to see her teachers and peers again.

“I’m really thankful that I just have the opportunity to go to school every day,” Keller said. “I know a lot of kids struggled when we went to virtual learning. I personally think I benefited from it, but I think being in-person and seeing all your friends and teachers helps immensely.”

The ability to participate in clubs, sports and other activities is also something the students haven’t taken for granted.

“I’m glad and thankful that we can participate in activities again,” Woodring said. “Prior to Covid, it’s something that you never really thought would go away.”

A common theme they found during interviews earlier in the day — family — was the most important value for which they were also thankful.

Bickel said she is particularly excited to visit her sister, Shelby, in Bellwood for the holidays.

The pair have not spent many holidays together growing up, but as they’ve grown older, their bond has flourished, and Bickel said she is looking forward to creating memories with her sister and nephew.

“Even though she lives pretty close, I’m not able to see her too often,” Bickel said. “I’m really excited to be able to share this Thanksgiving with her and her family. She’s a really important part of my life, and I love seeing her.”

Loya said she was also thankful for her younger sister, Violet, who has been facing some health issues over the past year.

She said while she has been a “stereotypical” older sister in the past, she is planning to look after her sister and be at her side this holiday season.

“I’ve realized just how important she really is to me,” Loya said.

Hyde is thankful for opportunities the past year has brought, as her family just moved into a new house with her older sister, Brooke.

With having a new roof over her head in a better area of town, Hyde said she is thankful for the little things this year.

“It’s very comforting,” she said of moving into a new home. “It will be nice to have everyone under the same roof to have Thanksgiving together.”

Mirror Staff Writer Calem Illig is at 814-946-7535.

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