Story and photos by Jeff Barr/weloveannarbor.com
It comes out five times a year, anywhere from 80-100 pages, full glossy magazine, 8½ x 11. No, we’re not talking about special editions of Sports Illustrated or National Geographic; if you go to Community High School, it’s your issue of The Communicator.
Quite simply, The Communicator is a school newspaper on steroids. It’s big, it’s glossy, it’s full of news, features, sports, opinion and anything you might associate with a big-time magazine. And it has won so many awards that adviser Tracy Anderson has lost track.
Quite simply, if you go to Community High, you have some top-notch student journalism at your disposal. Heck, take out the word “student.” It’s top-notch journalism, period.
“These students are smart, they care about people, and they are in a position to do good in the world,” Anderson said. “It’s their creation. They do the design, the writing, the photography, you name it. It’s 100-percent run by the students.”
Make no mistake, The Communicator is a big-time operation. There are 80 students on staff, comprising three class periods taught by Anderson. Grace Jensen, one of four editors-in-chief of the print edition (there also significant and impressive Web content at http://www.chscommunicator.com ) says her work at The Communicator is one of the most satisfying things she’s ever done.
“I’ve done things I never thought I could do,” Jensen said. “I went to the Democratic Presidential debate in Flint in 2016, and there was CNN, all the big names in journalism, and there’s me, sitting two feet away from Bernie Sanders. It was something I’ll never forget.”
Though she was excited, she still did her job. Jensen may be just 18 years old, but because she joined the staff as a sophomore, she now has nearly three years experience as a journalist. This, because of her work at a school publication that goes far beyond the norm.
“At first, everything felt awkward for me,” Jensen said. “I always liked English and writing, but to tell you the truth, at first I thought I might quit (The Communicator) because the interviewing didn’t come naturally. It was hard, but now that I’ve learned the ropes, I’m so glad I stuck it out because I love what I’m doing.”
Anderson may say that the publication is “100-percent student run,” but her students feel her presence.
“Tracy is a huge part of what we do,” Jensen said. “She really has taught me a lot. She says it is done by the students, which it is, but we couldn’t do it without her leadership.”
It is a team effort, as journalism always is. The staff is made up of 80 students and all of them play an important role. They have to, putting out a quality publication and website. Megan Syer, a 17-year-old senior, and another editor-in-chief, likes all aspects of her leadership position, but one part of the business particularly strikes her.
“I love to design pages a lot,” said Syer, who has been on staff since her freshman year. “I think it’s super interesting to design a page to grab people’s attention. It’s not just the writing that gets attention, even though that’s important, but it’s how a page looks.”
Syer says she studied other magazines and newspapers, but is quick to point out that “copying” their work is not what she does.
“Yes, you draw inspiration, but then you make it your own,” she said. “It’s just like anything else. You look at the people who are successful and see what they do.”
The Communicator has come a long way since Anderson began as an advisor 18 years ago. It began as a four-page publication with a different editor-in-chief every week. Anderson would go to the student’s house on Sunday night and staple 120 copies of the publication for distribution.
From four pages to 100. You could say journalism at Community High School has made progress. Anderson says the time she puts in is well worth it.
“There’s nothing better than working socially and academically with students, and watching what they are able to create,” says the 21-year teacher. “It’s a great way to spend my life.”
Anderson has a special connection with her students, and they – because of The Communicator – have a special connection to the community.
“It’s amazing what you can learn about people, about the whole community, when you go out and talk to them,” Syer said. “I have found a passion, something I love to do. That’s what I would tell anyone who is interested in getting into journalism or anything else.
“Find something you are passionate about and go from there. If you are passionate about it, chances are you’ll be able to create something you are proud of.”