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An hour in the classroom

Posted: October 18, 2013 9:17 a.m.
Updated: October 21, 2013 5:00 a.m.

I spent an hour Thursday  morning with Erica Peake’s writing class at North Central Middle School (NCMS).

Peake’s class is made up of a mix of some very bright and inquisitive sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Thursday served as Reading Day -- a day to talk about a book they recently read: City of Orphans by Avi, with illustrations by Greg Ruth. (Avi is the pen name of children’s author Edward Irving Wortis.)

I’ve never read the book, but according to its blurb on Amazon, it’s set in 1893 New York City and is about 13-year-old newsboy Maks Geless; his sister, Emma, who’s been arrested for stealing a watch from the Waldorf Hotel; and the Plug Ugly Gang, led by Bruno, who -- for reasons I don’t know -- are after Maks.

Peake thought that since Maks was a newsboy, hawking newspapers on the streets of New York, it might be good for her students to learn about what the newspaper business is like today. I jumped at the chance -- I always enjoy connecting with our county’s young people and, hopefully, getting them excited about print journalism.

I started by introducing myself, explaining what I do as both an editor and reporter. I talked about our staff and what they do. And I talked about all the other publications we handle, from the West Wateree Chronicle to The Camden Horse.

Since City of Orphans takes place so long ago, I also told them a little of the C-I’s history. The paper, of course, has its roots with the original Camden Chronicle, founded in 1889. The kids appeared suitably impressed (at least I think they were) that the paper will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2014. I took a number of papers with me, not only of all our different publications, but of special editions we’ve had during the years. I showed them the C-I’s centennial edition for 1989 and the extra edition we printed on a Thursday in 1991 covering the fatal derailment of a train in Lugoff.

The main reason I was there, of course, was because of Maks in the book. The students wanted to know if we still had newsboys and girls. Well, we do, sort of.

I spoke with Publisher Mike Mischner before heading up to the school and he said while he was sure this paper employed street vendors at some point, he didn’t know when it would have stopped doing so. He did say, however, that we had neighborhood delivery boys and girls up until 1989 when we began using the U.S. Postal Service to mail papers to subscribers.

That led to my telling Peake’s students that we do not print the C-I or any of our papers here in Camden. The decision was made years ago to outsource our printing to the Florence Morning News. I explained that printing presses are expensive to maintain and operate and that we actually save money by having Florence print our papers.

That fact, in turn, led to me explaining how we make the sausage around here -- the actual work that goes into putting out the paper. Using computers, software and a wide area network link to Florence, we are able to write stories, compose our pages and send them to Florence.

Now I could talk about delivery. We employ several gentlemen who drive to Florence, pick up the papers, return to Camden, take subscriber copies to the post office for mailing and then go around the county placing copies in racks at convenience stores.

Peake and her students mentioned that, in City of Orphans, Maks made only about 8 cents a day selling newspapers. Today, we sell the paper for 75 cents a copy, more than nine times what Maks made for a whole day’s worth of work. I also explained that we have a circulation of about 6,500 copies each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but that -- using an average multiplier of 2.5 -- we figure there are about 13,000 people that read each edition of the paper.

We talked about deadlines and why they’re important, especially since Florence has its own paper to put out as well as those from other clients.

As the hour began to wind down, I asked the students why they thought newspapers are important. One of them mentioned crime; another talked about readers wanting to know what’s going on in the community.

Both are good answers. I explained a little bit about our watchdog role in that we attend all council and school board meetings since not everybody who lives in Kershaw County can do that. People have the right to know what their government is doing and, if they think something’s wrong, write a letter, call their councilman or show up at another meeting.

Also, as a community newspaper, I explained that the C-I covers the news of Kershaw County and its communities. People like to read about their neighbors, so in addition to hard news stories, we write feature stories on everything from ladies who take their dogs to church to folks who take to the air in sailplanes.

Finally, since I was in a school setting, I talked about the importance of education. I asked them why that would be important. They rattled off everything from writing to editing to graphic design to proofing and so on.

Again, all great answers. I added one more: staying in school and going to college helps you to learn how to research, how to formulate the right questions to ask and how to write stories in a way that informs, educates and entertains your readers.

I don’t know if any of these students at NCMS will enter the journalistic fray, but I have a pretty good feeling I’ve given a few of them something to think about. That, and their enthusiasm, made it an hour well spent.

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