By Leila Beem Núñez, Editor
After a journalism teacher at Coffee County Central High School retired two years ago, the school’s student newspaper fell by the wayside. Last year, Whitney Matheson, a journalist in residence and lecturer at Middle Tennessee State University, came to visit and was surprised to find that CHS didn’t have a journalism program.
And she wasn’t the only one, said English teacher Rhonda Winton. Emily West, a former CHS student and editor of the former newspaper, found out there was no longer a program and was also shocked. West, now a reporter for the Tennessean, reached out to Principal Dr. Joey Vaughn to say one thing: She wouldn’t be where she was without having been involved in CHS’ former journalism program.
“I don’t think I would be where I am now had I not been a part of that newspaper. It really helped me develop my writing and photography skills and my love for telling people’s stories,” said West, who added that learning how to interpret news is more important than ever. “I would have hated to see that opportunity disappear for other students.”
It was around this time that Winton got an offer from Matheson at MTSU, who said she thought she could help get some computers donated for a program. Winton said she was skeptical at first – most donated items are leftovers of sorts, she said.
“Usually when schools get things donated they’re like the last thing anybody would want,” Winton said with a laugh. “But [Mathison] said, ‘I think these are [Macintosh computers] that are two years old.’”
This August, Winton went to pick up the Macs and found that they were, indeed, up-to-date and just like new. After speaking with Vaughn, a journalism program at CHS seemed on the horizon.
“He asked me about doing the program and I told him about the computers, and we just kind of went from there,” Winton said.
Now, with the help of the school’s tech department, the donated computers sit in the back of Winton’s classroom. The room now serves as a newsroom for a new group of journalism students that make up the team that produces the recently-launched The Coffee Press, CHS’ new, digitally re-vamped news publication.
“We’re really excited about it; we actually threw a little party after we got our website up and running, brought some snacks and just celebrated,” Winton said.
The Coffee Press, which officially published its first story Oct. 12, seeks to inform the student body and faculty about all things CHS, featuring a wide range of topics from upcoming events to features on school faculty members and clubs. It also includes an editorial section, in which student reporters seek to opine on different issues and invite other fellow classmates to do so as well. The site also features a weekly opinion poll asking students how they feel about certain topics, such as TNReady, the state’s yearly standardized student achievement test.
The publication has all the qualities of a print newspaper – only with a modern, online flair. All the students in the newly reinstated, yearlong journalism class contribute to The Coffee Press, writing articles, taking and editing photographs and maintaining the website, among other things, Winton said. Contributor photographs are also used to accompany stories.
Katie Sudberry, a sophomore in the class, said she enjoys the being a part of it because it gives everyone an opportunity to contribute to a product in their own ways, while also doing so together.
“We’re really like a little family here,” Sudberry said. “Even though we’re all working on different things, we’re really tight-knit.”
Jake Melton, a sophomore and sports editor in the class, said the newspaper is a way for students to stay up-to-date on what’s happening.
“It’s just a great way to inform students, to keep them informed about what’s going on around school, like upcoming events,” Melton said.
Winton said teaching the journalism class has been a pleasure.
“[I like] just seeing them get excited about what they’re doing and seeing their confidence build, and seeing something that they take an interest in,” Winton said. “And also, just learning from them; they teach me as we go.”
Winton said that because the publication is new, the class has not submitted any of its work for awards – but plans to in the future. Winton added that she hopes the newspaper can stay up and running for years to come, and hopes that local advertisers might want to work with the publication in order to keep it running. The website costs about $300 a year to maintain, Winton said.
“Right now we’ve got a little money to start with, but the school doesn’t fund that,” Winton said. “And that’s just a facet of it we’ve got to learn, too.”
Farrah Fletcher, a senior and class copyeditor, said she sees the digital newspaper as a way for students to express their views.
“The newspaper gives us [in the class] a voice, but it also gives other students a voice, too,” Fletcher said.
To read The Coffee Press, visit coffeepresschs.com.