Spampinato cuts circulation of school paper
SUMMIT COUNTY – It’s been said you should never get into an argument with anyone who buys ink by the barrel, but Summit schools superintendent Lynn Spampinato has done just that.
For the past two and a half years, the Summit High School (SHS) monthly student newspaper, Tiger Tracks, has been published as an insert in the Summit Daily News (SDN).
When this year’s first issue came out in October, it was riddled with errors and on display for the entire county.
“In October, I read the paper, and there were lots and lots and lots of mistakes – simple spell-check and grammar mistakes,” Spampinato said.
“I expressed my concerns in a positive way,” Spampinato said. “My suggestions were this: Look at top, award-winning papers in the state; run spell-check and grammar-check, take the kids on field trips.”
Spampinato admits the Tiger Tracks staff had more than its fair share of difficulties during the October issue’s production – the first issue of the year.
The newspaper’s adviser, John Padjen, is the third Tiger Tracks adviser in three years.
As Padjen was learning the ropes, an educators’ conference in Denver and the death of his father required him to be absent for two and a half weeks early in the semester, just as the students were trying to get a handle on the basics of journalism.
“(Principal) Frank (Mencin) and I have talked about the fact that there’s been no consistency, but (Padjen’s) heart is certainly in it,” Spampinato said.
When the November issue came out, Spampinato did not see sufficient improvement. She found 117 spelling and grammatical errors, including the misspelling of her own name in the headline of the lead story on the front page and in about a dozen subsequent references.
Tiger Tracks staff also misspelled the names of Krystal 93 general manager Mo Bennett and SHS assistant principal James Hesse.
In addition to the misspellings of names, many stories contained problems that would have been alleviated through a spell-check program, such as: “Students will make intellegent decisions that positively imapct their lives.” and “The students were egar for the award ceremony because they had a few things entered.”
“I had complaints from parents about the quality of the paper,” Spampinato said. “Frank and (assistant principal) Jim (Hesse) and I decided to take the paper out of the Summit Daily.”
The students published 700 copies of the December Tiger Tracks for distribution at the high school. Had the issue run as an insert in the Summit Daily News, more than 11,000 copies would have hit newsstands throughout Summit County.
On the Tiger Tracks opinion page, production editor and SHS senior Matt Spaulding retaliated against Spampinato’s decision with a heart-felt editorial.
“I’m pretty mad about (her decision),” Spaulding said. “I don’t think it was reasonable at all. If you look at it, it’s a student newspaper. If you look at our first paper to where we are now, we’ve gotten better, but she doesn’t see that.
“We had two papers come out before. We were trying to get it in on our deadline. We didn’t mean to overlook mistakes, but we thought it was the best paper we could get out at the time,” Spaulding added.
According to Spaulding, the Tiger Tracks staff has to abide by its deadlines, because its reporters strive to write newsworthy, time-sensitive stories that would lose their punch if publishing were pushed back.
Many staff, administrators and students agree that the students’ latest effort is a big improvement over the previous two issues.
“It’s a student-generated newspaper, and it’s never going to be exactly perfect,” Mencin said. “There are mistakes in the Summit Daily. There are mistakes in The Denver Post. Sometimes it takes a jolt to make things better.
“This last edition was a great one; hopefully the next one that comes out we can get back into the Daily. We’ve made great strides.”
“In the third issue, we were able to address the issues of editing,” Padjen said. “We’ve spent time on writing and the importance of rewriting. We’ve worked on learning software and writing styles. It’s a lot to get in in three months, and the faculty was very pleased with our third issue.”
“Each story was definitely read over by at least three people,” Spaulding said. “We printed out 10 versions of the final copy before it went to press. We just want to make sure our paper is better each time.”
Despite his confidence in the December issue, Spaulding and his other student editors decided not to let Spampinato review the paper before publication in an attempt to reverse her decision.
“If we ask her how she feels about it, it’s almost like she’s editing it for us, and then it wouldn’t be a student paper,” Spaulding said. “Our teacher looked at it, but he didn’t tell us what to change, because it’s our paper- not his.”
“I think that if we were to say, “This is OK, and you can print a newspaper filled with mistakes,’ we would be doing our children a real disservice,” Spampinato said. “It’s all about learning. My hope is that everyone will learn from this experience, and the ultimate outcome will be that it will increase the quality of the newspaper and the students’ writing.
“I always write for ideas and go back and review to make corrections. If we don’t encourage students to do that, we would be extremely remiss in teaching what good writing is all about,” Spampinato said.
Steve Wahlfeldt, president of the Colorado High School Press Association and a 14-year adviser for student publications, agreed with Spampinato’s decision to temporarily limit Tiger Tracks’ circulation
“This is a good learning opportunity for the students,” Wahlfeldt said. “A leader in the community is stepping up and saying, “We want a better product. Until then, you won’t have a wider audience.’ That’s commendable. The onus is on the students to meet the challenge.”
Spaulding said he has learned some lessons, not all of them about writing.
“I’ve definitely learned from this,” Spaulding said. “I’m voicing my opinion about things. I’m glad that we’re causing so much controversy, because it seems like school newspapers are submitting to what their administration tells them to do, but we’re not.
“I’ve definitely learned to write an (editorial) in a respectable manner,” Spaulding continued. “When I started out, I was pretty mad. I told teachers what I was writing about and some of the them were like, “You’ve got some guts writing this,’ and they told me to tone it down and not to overdo it.
“And I definitely know how to spell her name now.”
“We all make mistakes, but not 117 in one newspaper,” Spampinato said. “You lose your audience and your voice when people are looking at your mistakes.”
According to Wahlfeldt, very few high schools in Colorado have the opportunity to run their student newspapers inside a community paper.
Increasing circulation from the high school to the greater community is a privilege and requires greater care and higher quality, Wahlfeldt said.
“It’s a constant challenge for all student newspapers to make sure spelling and grammar are taken care of. The paper is a reflection not only of the students who produced it, but of the school as well.
“The relatively basic things – spell-check and grammar and those types of things – those are very important. Journalistic writing is not just about coverage and issues,” Wahlfeldt said.
SDN publisher Mike Bennett agreed that Tiger Tracks has not been up to snuff recently, and that it should not have been published until the students demonstrated marked improvement.
“We’d like them to produce a quality product that we can publish,” Bennett said. “This is something we do as a public service and as part of our corporate sponsorship of the high school.
“The students should be embarrassed by their mistakes and improve their editing and proofreading,” Bennett added.
Some parents and advertisers disagree that mistakes warrant taking student news away from the community.
“Our vacationers hardly know there are kids living up here,” said Barb Cole, owner of The Barnyard in Frisco. “There is the sense that this is a vacation community and real people don’t live here. Those students are real people and that paper should have been distributed to the whole county.
“As an advertiser, I would love people to see that The Barnyard is supportive of the high school, that their dollars spent in Summit County return to the community. I’d advertise if it wasn’t printed at all, but what I was most upset about was that the vacationers didn’t see what a fabulous group of kids we have,” Cole said.
Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at
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