At 14 years old, I decided what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.
It wasn’t on purpose. It was just a language arts assignment. We were instructed to write about what career we wanted to go into when we grew up.
I had never thought about it before. What was I good at? I had won some awards for writing, and it always came easily to me, so maybe I could be a writer.
In the school library, I grabbed the “W” Encyclopedia — Poca Middle School had just gotten a dial-up internet connection the year before, and only one computer had “connected the Dots” to the World Wide Web.
I looked up “writer” — the entry said, “See journalist.” So I grabbed the “J” Encyclopedia. And it was decided — I guess I want to be a journalist when I grow up.
In 10th grade, I applied to FlipSide — a free teen publication put out by the Charleston Gazette. It was full of articles, artwork and poetry by high school students in the Charleston area.
Poca High School’s student newspaper was a sheet of paper that came out monthly, and the big feature was the lunch menu. FlipSide seemed more like the real deal to me.
Marina Hendricks, the first editor of FlipSide, hired me. I was ecstatic. But what would I write about?
I proposed a series called “The Rock Star Next Door,” where I interviewed local high schoolers who played in rock bands. This was a nice way to ease me into interviewing people because I was painfully shy and these people weren’t complete strangers to me.
Sometimes, I got fired up. I was in the marching band, and we worked hard. We worked on a show all summer and performed it during halftime at every home football game. And it made me mad how many people went to the concession stand instead of watching us play.
So I wrote a piece headlined “Show some respect for the marching band.” It ended up in the Saturday Gazette, on the FlipSide section front. But we were a Daily Mail family, and didn’t know about it until a neighbor told us. After we heard, we had to go out and buy a few Gazettes to get copies of my story.
I had been published in the real paper! Like a real journalist! I used this clip for everything — school projects, portfolios, college applications. I even used it when I applied to work at West Virginia University’s student newspaper, The Daily Athenaeum.
FlipSide gave me my start in journalism and a taste of seeing my byline in print. I could hold what I wrote in my hands, and so could others. I was hooked.
Fast forward some years (let’s not talk about how many), and I ended up at the Gazette again, this time as a copy editor. Somehow, I ended up in the position of laying out FlipSide each month.
Former editor Anna Patrick and I worked hard to make FlipSide look more modern, more like a magazine than a newspaper, hoping to appeal more to teens. I took pride in my work because I had loved the program so much when I was a writer.
When FlipSide was cancelled two years ago, it really upset me. First, it lost its sponsor, and then its editor. There was no way to save it.
But now, I have that opportunity.
Teens need a place for their voices to be heard. Not all schools are able to have a newspaper, and FlipSide could fill that void for aspiring journalists and photographers. But don’t think of it as competition for the school newspapers — students are welcome to write for both. And FlipSide might offer a little more freedom to them than their school.
Over the last month, I’ve been posting on social media about trying to bring FlipSide back, and I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from teachers and former writers. Two weeks ago, I got the green light, and the FlipSide publication will return this fall.
After the 2016 flood, I wished we had FlipSide to give affected students a voice.
After the students in Florida started a movement to stop school shootings, I wished we had FlipSide to give West Virginia students a voice.
After West Virginia’s teachers started a nationwide movement with their strike, I wished we had FlipSide to give our students a voice.
I want FlipSide to be an outlet for students to cover what they think matters. What are they fired up about? What do they think needs changed?
If you’re a student and you’re interested in joining the FlipSide team as a writer, photographer or graphic artist, email email@example.com. Give me your ideas of what you want to see in the new FlipSide. FlipSide is for you, and I want to make it something you want to work for and something you want to read.
If you’re a teacher who wants to get involved, please join us noon, Wednesday, June 27 at Charleston Newspapers (1001 Virginia St. E., Charleston) for a lunch to discuss the return of FlipSide. Please RSVP to the Facebook event (https://www.facebook.com/events/247450839377717/).