A boyish-looking 16-year-old was standing in a brightly lit classroom that was probably a little too spacey for its own good.
It wasn’t the principal’s office, but the room was full of adults who weren’t happy. They had read something in the school newspaper that morning that had upset them, and now they had summoned the reporter to reprimand him.
“I’m just curious where you’re getting your information from,” one of them said as she stapled together the next day’s health test.
The reporter looked to the floor. He was surprised by her question and startled by her confidence.
This was Upper Moreland High School, a public school in the Northeast suburbs that you’ve probably never heard of. It has a decent football team, but no journalism curriculum.
When I got there as a freshman, the high school newspaper, called Bear Print, was a mostly non-existent club that hadn’t put out a paper in years. It was run out of a science classroom, advised by an ecology teacher who offered about as much advice as the tarantula in the room’s terrarium.
I worked there for four years, helping transform Bear Print from a defunct newsletter to a monthly publication by the time I was editor-in-chief my senior year.
When I was a junior in high school, I wrote a story in Bear Print that criticized the physical education program’s choices of activities in gym class.
It was barely journalism, but it hit hard enough that a group of gym teachers cornered me in my English classroom at the end of the day that it published.
I thought for months about what I should write about for this send-off column – my final goodbye as editor-in-chief of The Temple News.
During my four years here, I’ve covered a presidential election, interviewed a former U.S. Congressman, attended a murder trial and reported extensively on the athletic department’s budget issues.
I’ve written 113 sports articles, 33 news articles, five arts & entertainment columns, four opinion columns and two articles in the Living section.
What is there left to say?
Plenty, but I decided to start with a story about my journalism beginnings in high school because it reminds me of a more recent story where a student journalist wrote something someone didn’t want him to write.
This past December, The Temple News accurately reported on the legal troubles of trustee Dennis Alter, the former credit-card magnate who faces a potential $219 million fine from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
When contacted for comment on the story, Chairman of the Board of Trustees Patrick O’Connor told a Temple News reporter to “reexamine his goals as a newspaper man” and “think hard about whether [his reporting] is helping the Temple community.”
The lesson today is the same one I learned standing in that English classroom six years ago: The best kinds of stories are the ones that keep you up at night. They’re the ones that piss off gym teachers, fluster billionaires and get you called into the principal’s office.
Throughout my tenure here, I’ve tried to find those stories. And I’ve watched with admiration as the reporters I’ve worked with have also found them.
More than anything, The Temple News has taught me that great storytelling comes from great people.
People like last year’s editor-in-chief, who taught me to read everything and write honestly, and this year’s managing editor, who I’ll always remember as the girl who liked to listen to Sam Cooke in the newsroom and became one of my best friends.
People like our Living and Arts & Entertainment editors, who I’ve watched grow from two young features writers into confident reporters with an investigative zeal. Or our Opinion editor, who is nerdy in a good way and the best writer I know.
And people like our sports editors, who started as beat reporters when I was sports editor, but have matured into running what I consider to be one of the best college newspaper sports sections in the country.
Here’s the last story I’ll tell.
This past November, The Temple News closely followed a developing situation off-campus where a Temple student with a gun was barricaded inside his home by Philadelphia police and SWAT teams.
We reported on the story from around 11 a.m. until well past midnight as a day-long standoff ensued. Our news editor was on the scene for more than 12 hours straight, posting hourly on our news blog and tweeting constant updates.
Around noon, the Inquirer and Metro Philly published erroneous reports that the student had killed himself. After we posted a story confirming that the student was still alive, both publications issued corrections.
Police would later recover the student safely with no injuries.
Sometime toward the end of the night, when things were winding down, I called our news editor and asked him if he needed anything. He hadn’t eaten in hours and the temperature was steadily dropping.
All he wanted, he said, was a large root beer and French fries from Wendy’s.
When I showed up at the scene minutes later, he looked cold and exhausted, but invigorated at having gotten the story right all day.
I gave him his root beer and his fries. I hugged him. I told him I was proud of him.
Joey Cranney can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @joey_cranney.
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