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Jacob Land

Hanson pd 2
Junior Seminar
April 24, 2015
Junior Seminar Ethnography
I completed my Junior Seminar ethnography on the Thomas S. Wootton High School
student-run newspaper: Common Sense. I was able to visit two of their class periods, both in
period six, as well as briefly observe an after school meeting, and observe their micro-culture.
One of the most essential tools I had was my interviews which were granted to me by two
students who are long-time members of the Common Sense team, as well as the staff sponsor
and Journalism teacher in charge of its production.
Before my research, I had never walked into the newspaper class, nor have I ever walked
into a newspaper club after school, so other than reading the newspaper and having junior
seminar in their classroom, I had no prior biases about the subculture. However, I did know some
people in newspaper, which may have focused my attention differently during my observations.
One of the biggest obstacles to completing any type of ethnography is finding a way to see the
culture without having any influence on it. When I walked inside newspaper classroom, I knew
that I was changing its culture and feel, whether I liked it or not. People will act differently with
an observer in the classroom, and I was able to recognize that before completing my
observations. In order to overcome this obstacle, I needed to make myself as subtle as possible
and make sure not to call any attention to myself. I was lucky enough to not only be allowed to
preform observations on the class, but also lucky enough to be able to interview Abby Wei, the
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editor in chief of Common Sense, and Mrs. Starr, the teacher sponsor of both Newspaper and
Yearbook, as well as a Journalism teacher. I also found it helpful to ask Alex Klugerman, the
current News editor and rising Editor-In-Chief, some questions about his position and the class
in general from his perspective.
Before doing any Interviews, I completed my first observation. Walking into the room, I
had no idea what the class period was going to be like . I figured it might be a little relaxed, as
since it was the sixth period, all of the students in the class had already had their lunch period. I
also thought that there wasn't much work that goes into newspaper, and I was happy to find out
how wrong I was. The first day I walked in and noticed that there was very few people in the
room. Most people were coming in late to the class, as I would soon find out. After several failed
attempts to start the class, Mrs. Starr eventually gave Alex, the news editor, the responsibility to
take attendance. For the first 20 minutes of the class, no one seem to be doing any work. There
were people sleeping on the sofa, engaged in private conversations, watching soccer on their
Computer, and doing homework for other classes.
Mrs. Starr, in her interview, understood my false preconceptions and let me know that,
most people who look at the newspaper have no idea how we do what we do. And you know, I
wouldn't expect them to. She explained how most people, students as well as teachers, just see
this product, and have no idea how much work goes into it. I then explained to her, sheepishly,
that until my first Ethnography, I was one of those people. I then conversed with her about the
difficulties that go into a product that even she claims has a challenging audience to write for, to
which she replied that: Nobody knows what we do. We are the only people who know how hard
this is. We are doing this for the people who don't know, and for the people who criticize us. We
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aren't doing this for us, we are providing people with this thing, this product, that we think is so
so valuable.
One thing about the T.S. Wootton Newspaper that sets it apart from some others is not
just the fact that it is student run, but also the fact that they publish on a 10 day cycle. I observed
the class on days 3 and four of the cycle, but completed my after school ethnography on day 6 in
which a completely different class dynamic became apparent. Leading these classes can be
difficult as Mrs. Starr, with input from current student leaders, chooses who will run the class.
Unfortunately due to scheduling conflicts the three, yes THREE, editors-in-chief of Common
Sense were all placed in the same period leaving period six with no single executive figure other
than Starr herself. It was very apparent that the lack of a editor in chief in the. I was observing
took its effects, as by the halfway point in the class, on only the first day, less than half of the
class was in the room. They had all sneaked out or just left.
Abby Wei, one of those editors-in-chief who was forced to be in the 8th period class as
she is president of one of the schools Acapella groups that I am in, stated that this separation,
definitely feel like that hinders the other periodbecause you don't have that top leadership
there guiding all of the new kids or all of the other leadership around. News Editor Alex
Klugerman could easily feel the effects of the separation as he noted how difficult it can be
when, sometimes a message does not get through, or we may assign the same story twice, so it
is hard to have that split. There is just a lot of miscommunication.
Because of what Abby called a, lack of leadership, Starr has given a lot of
responsibility to the Managing Editor Allie who although was absent during my first two
observations, her role was still seen in the class period. She claimed that she would like the
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editors in chief to be split up in the two periods, as it has created, a little bit of a crunch on
Allie becausethats a lot for her to read and you can only read so fast.
Thats not the only thing that happens quickly in newspaper. The newspaper is (generally)
printed with a speedy production cycle of only 10 days. While that may seem like enough time,
the Newspaper is a far more comprehensive schedule and commitment than most think. Abby
knew about how her role of editor-in-chief was very time-consuming and that it was a big
responsibility, but she admitted that she was most taken aback by the time, the very little time
[they] had to write articles and get them on pages. As Editor-In-Chief it seems a bit unfair to get
the perspective of the student with, seemingly, the most observable responsibilities in the class
but in the end it all rests with the teacher.
Starr, who has had a long history of teaching Journalism at Wootton and other schools
and who was even an editor-in-chief of her own high school newspaper, explained her reasoning
for the structure. She repeated the words she claims she spoke the first week of being the
Journalism teacher for both Wootton and Springbrooke: Its bi-weekly now, that's how it
works. She explained how after both schools openly expressed their reservations and shock at
such an unfathomable change, she asked them to just give [her] one issue to show [them] that it
works, and if [they] hate it and [they] think it doesn't work... then [they would all] talk. After
trying the new challenge at both schools Starr recalls the surprise when students were able to
realize the structure of the new program and finally mimic her own thoughts by vocalizing, oh!
I see it! It works! She summarized that although she thinks it sounds crazy to people until they
see it, after trying it out, they realize that it is very doable.

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Starr also expressed the importance in her addition to the class as the final round of edits.
She explained to me that Kyle, a junior who throughout my observations was doing everything
except writing articles, wrote an op-Ed piece, that really, well just wasn't an op-Ed. As Starr
explained how he really hadn't thought through what his argument was, I was reminded of his
behavior the previous day which involved acting out the parallel parking portion of the MVA
License test using a white board eraser and a very detailed drawing he made on the white board.
Starr believes that his piece for the paper made it through the editorial process, I think because
what he was saying was interesting but it just wasn't well written. Perhaps, I thought at that
moment, she is very aware of some of the students who refrain from actually writing in the class
and resort to other activities that include but are not limited to: Watching soccer, sleeping,
playing music, checking to see what I was writing on my ethnography page, leaving the room
and not coming back for the whole period, coming in to the period late, chatting with friends,
doing other homework, screaming, complaining, tweeting, and eating. These are just a few of the
behaviors that I observed in the 2 hours and 15 minutes I spent with the class. Even while Kyle
was talking with his friends, during the first class. I observed, towards the end, Mrs.*stood up
and join the conversation saying that "parallel parking isn't even that hard
Now, while i recognize that on day 3 of the 10 day cycle there was certainly more
commotion than on day 4 or even day 6, the class seemed very different from most classes. To
me it seemed like an extracurricular club that was just given 45 minutes during the day to meet
and treated their classes as they would any other after-school activity. On the second day of
observing, the class did seem a little quieter. There was a lot more people on their computers
doing work, and although certain people stepped up to leave towards the beginning of class, most
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people were very efficient with her time. The second day was much closer to the deadline day,
and Many of the staff writers were handing in their articles to Mrs. star, who later in the. Gave
him to the editors of their appropriate section. When I asked Mrs. Starr about the reason why
some of the students seem to be on different working schedules than others, she gave me a very
insightful reason. She told me that, unlike my observations, by day four the editors are all
scrambling to get things done. She clarified that those who couldn't make their pages because
the articles aren't in yet, are working at a different and perhaps more compressed rate. When
they get their pages, she explained, they are very crunched for time as they have to edit and
design the look of their pages. Once the articles are handed to the editors, as some are by day
four, Starr said that those days are more lax than they are for writers, subtly suggesting a
possible explanation for the more indolent actions of the writers.
One of the later things I discussed with the rising and current editor-in-chief as well as
Mrs. Starr was how the student leaders are chosen and what each of them see as the
responsibilities for each position. It was especially interesting to me to hear all of their thoughts
on the position of editor-in-chief as all of them have had, or will have in the next year, that hard
position. First I talked to Alex Klugerman.
When asked about the recent decision to make him one of the few selected to run the
newspaper, Alex admitted that he is kind of nervous, although he is very happy that he got
the position and thankful to Mrs. Starr for the opportunity. Alex pondered what it might be like
next year and how his leadership styles might differ from those of the current editors. He
revealed that although he like[s] to keep it light, he is one to get work done, a quality that he
noted will be much like the editors in chief this year. I asked him about how he is going to
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manage that kind of responsibly and work load. After a lighthearted chuckle he opened that he
definitely anticipate[s] that it's going to be a lot harder next year in terms of stress and time, as
he has already come to understand that the editors-in-chief have to stay after school for a lot
more time, and they are the last ones to look over the paper, before Mrs. Starr. Even though
Mrs. Starr was mentioned as a last editor, Alex understood that he will be blamed if someone
misspell[s] a word in the headline, as he noted that it is ultimately the editor-in-Chiefs job to
catch that kind of mistake.
Abby Wei, current editor-in-chief, also expressed that when she sees a simple spelling or
even something as serious as a factual error, she thinks, how was this not caught In the five
rounds of edits, you know? I found it very interesting to interview Abby Wei just two periods
after the lunch time interview with Alex as I was able to see some of his concerns and feelings
and see if they were shared or justified by someone with a very different perspective. I
understood, after interviewing Alex, that there was some uneasy thoughts by students receiving
leadership positions in the coming year. When asked about her workload, Abby admitted how
even she doesnt really know how [she] manage[s] it all, [that] it just kind of works out. Of
course even I couldn't believe that everything just works out as Abby revealed that When [she
is] in newspaper [she] try[s] to give 100%to newspaper and make sure that [shes] not
thinking about, you know, homework during that time, or [her] SIP. As a senior, Abby is not just
faced with the burden of being the editor-in-chief of newspaper, or being the President of the
student-run a cappella group Chaos, or even being the President of the Thomas S. Wootton
National Honors Society She has grades and college planning to attend to as well. Abby seems
to be very set with her schedule, she claims that Newspaper is one of the reasons why.
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Mrs. Starr explained to me that through the Newspaper, as well as the Yearbook and
Journalism classes, she teaches them about leadership, and working as a part of a team, and
truth, and commitment to each other, and responsibility, and writing, and interviewing, which
she emphasized is much more important to [her] then any of the journalism stuff. While she
understood that The journalism stuff what [they] do, what she really hopes they get out of the
class is not to [solely] be a good journalist, but to be a better human being, A skill that is only
practiced through learning to be a journalist.
Thorough out my Ethnographical studies, I forced myself to be immersed in a culture that
I didnt know existed. While I took note of all of the mini study groups and sleeping seniors, It
was far more interesting and important to me to focus my study on three people who are the
hidden masterminds of an operation that 99% doesnt, and will never know about. These three
have traveled down the same path and have all expressed their passion for creating a final
product that they are proud to share with the school. Although I neglected to mention it, all three
valued the professionalism of the class as they are held to many of the same standards as a
newspaper like the Washington Post would hold their writers. It was very important for me to
interview these individuals to give subtext and value to a graph that states when people stood up
and left the room. While these graphs, over 20 pages of typed notes in size 10 font, gave some
suggestions as to what the culture of the class was like, I wasn't really able to understand why
until my interviews.

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