The Northwood Omniscient

Northwood HS’s student news magazine builds online presence during pandemic

Posted 2/17/21

PITTSBORO — When Grace Leonard stumbled upon the journalism class that produces the Northwood Omniscient, she didn’t know much of anything about journalism or communications.

Two years of …

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The Northwood Omniscient

Northwood HS’s student news magazine builds online presence during pandemic

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Posted

PITTSBORO — When Grace Leonard stumbled upon the journalism class that produces the Northwood Omniscient, she didn’t know much of anything about journalism or communications.

Two years of journalism experience — and nearly 20 Omniscient articles later — she now hopes to work in the communications field, and credits that goal to her experience at Northwood High School’s award-winning student news magazine.

“My experience working for the paper was entirely positive,” Leonard, who is a junior at Northwood, said. “I believe contributing to the school paper has given me a new perspective on journalism and how crucial it is to society. This experience has enabled me to improve upon communicating with others, developing stronger writing skills and collaborating for production.”

During a normal year, Northwood English teacher and magazine adviser Eliza Brinkley said the Omniscient staff prints four to five magazines per school year — produced entirely by students in the journalism program. Usually, students are responsible for approaching local businesses to sell ad space in the magazine, with contributions from Northwood’s PTA helping cover the printing costs, too. Under that model, students usually wrote two stories a semester.

This year, with remote learning putting a pause on print editions, the Omniscient staff wrote two stories per month, focusing on improving their online presence and producing more content.

“Part of the reason we call ourselves a ‘news magazine’ now rather than a ‘newspaper’ is because we are shifting more and more to an online platform, as is the case with many high school journalism publications across the country,” Brinkley said, adding that they’ll likely pivot back to print when possible. Being online, she said, means students can explore making videos, podcasts, graphic designs and other interactive media pieces in addition to traditional print articles.

“I was a little worried about keeping up the group’s motivation as the semester wore on and remote learning became more and more monotonous,” Brinkley said, “but I’ve never been more impressed by the sheer hard work and pluckiness of a group of teenagers.”

“I think the changes we’ve had this semester will have a huge impact on how we operate moving forward,” added staff writer Ethan Westmoreland.

Torin Priddle, one of the editors for the magazine along with Ella Sullivan, helped manage their website’s Google analytics page in order to see how much traffic their stories get — noting he saw a bump in viewership every Friday from advertising.

“...We’ve had a little over 300 users a week,” he said of the website in mid-December. “According to Google, we have people from all over the world checking the site, which is neat.”

Brinkley said the journalism class is a combination of two things: studying the fundamentals of journalism and producing the Omniscient. And while she teaches lessons on audience engagement, types of newspaper elements, news deserts, multimedia storytelling and more, “working on the Omniscient is itself the primary ‘teacher.’”

Even though several of her students last semester were in their first semester of journalism, Brinkley said they’ve produced some the “most in-depth, balanced and eloquent pieces” she’s seen during her three years at Northwood. From construction on Pittsboro’s traffic circle to podcasts on identities, and major school sports updates to reporting on Seasonal Affective Disorder, the Omniscient is producing quality journalism.

“I think they’ve been buoyed by the sense that The Omniscient has a unique opportunity to be a force for community building during these difficult times,” Brinkley said of her students, prior to high schools returning to in-person hybrid learning Feb. 1. “It’s a lot harder for students and staff to know what’s going on at Northwood when we’re all at home and don’t get to see one another on campus every day. The Omniscient has been one of the main resources for closing that gap.”

Sophomore staff writer Olivia McMurray isn’t certain if she’ll pursue a career in journalism. Still, she’s really grateful for the skills she developed as a result of the work she did in the class and for the bonds she formed with the other writers.

“Taking the class has helped me engage with my community, improve my writing skills, and practice my critical thinking — all of which I find important regardless of whether or not I become a journalist after high school,” she said.

Last semester, McMurray chose to write about the increase in pet adoptions during quarantine for her first article. She spoke with a representative from SPCA International for the piece, along with other Northwood students about their experiences. Because it was her first semester in the class, she said she doesn’t have an in-person newsroom experience to compare to the online one. For her, the twice-weekly Zoom brainstorming meetings helped her feel connected to the rest of the writers, and she enjoyed the freedom she had to explore graphic design as a result of the focus on online.

And even though she doesn’t yet know if a career in journalism is for her, it seems one semester of working with the Omniscient has given her not only the confidence to see herself as a journalist, but the passion to “shine light onto people or things that are important.”

“We journalists have the responsibility to tell stories that need to be told and give a voice to people who do not have one — and that is a powerful thing,” McMurray said. “I feel lucky to be at a school where a journalism program is offered, because if not, I most likely wouldn’t have gotten exposed to journalism and media and found out I enjoy it.”

Reporter Hannah McClellan can be reached at hannah@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @HannerMcClellan.

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