Zach Anders, at Jackson High, made school history when, as a junior, he became the youngest-ever editor-in-chief at the student newspaper. At 17, he is also writing professionally.
But his school newspaper, the Stiqayu, is set to shut down next year. The class producing it will no longer be offered, ending the paper's 20-year run. It is no longer able to afford to produce 1,200 copies at about $300 a month, Anders said.
But Anders has come up with a new way to get the information out. He's leading students in producing newscasts on YouTube and envisions expanding the broadcasts to air on public access cable TV next year.
For their inaugural Jackson News Network broadcast, Anders and five other students got to cover their first national disaster. The JNN reporters were the only students allowed behind the Highway 530 barricade at the Oso mudslide.
“Nothing could have prepared us,” Anders said. “It was difficult.”
Anders shot a “stand-up” on camera at the debris field.
“I felt like Anderson Cooper,” he said. “I was odd standing there, trying to keep it all together.”
The broadcast went online earlier this month.
“It's going to resonate with other young people,” Snohomish County Executive John Lovick said. “It gives us a lot of hope.”
Lovick and Chuck Wright, a retired community corrections supervisor and mental health professional, helped make the Oso newscast possible. Wright found Anders to be caring and motivated.
“He was very respectful on the hallowed ground we were on,” Wright said. “What a leader.”
Next year, JNN plans to produce daily video announcements at school. The reporters also hope to air a show every week. If students are able to produce enough original content, the broadcast could be expanded to public-access television. That programing would include high school news, sports and events.
“We all think it's doable,” Anders said. “From an educational standpoint, this is a unique opportunity.”
Anders plans to include students from Everett and Cascade high schools in the effort. He expects to spend his summer vacation producing content, including a documentary on Jackson's history.
He's also working with the city to achieve his goal. Public Works Director Tom Gathmann said Mill Creek doesn't currently have a public access channel. There are two potential agreements the city could make with Frontier Communications or Comcast to make one available to the students.
“There's a lot of bridges that would need to be crossed,” Gathmann said.
In addition to the TV project, Gathmann said, he's impressed with the work Anders has done in the community. Gathmann believes Anders is the youngest person to ever serve as chairman of the city's arts and beautification board.
“I'd be surprised if he's not holding a public office sometime soon,” Gathmann said.
Though Anders has his sights set on a career in journalism, he can also see himself holding office.
“If I do get elected, I'll have to stop reporting,” he said.
Anders started writing for the Mill Creek View last July. He said he recently stopped because of ethical differences with his boss there. Since he left the View, Anders has been writing for the Mill Creek Beacon, which launched in April.
Anders said he got into journalism by mistake. Because of a scheduling error, he was stuck with it as an elective during his freshman year. He started at the Stiqayu as a news writer.
He enjoyed it. Early on, he covered a particularly meaningful story about a Jackson graduate who had died in a kayaking accident. Anders said he believes the young man's parents appreciated his work.
“It was one of those great moments where you feel like you've really touched someone,” he said.
Anders came back his sophomore year as the school's youngest-ever news editor.
In his short time as a journalist, he said, he's made students uncomfortable by asking tough questions. Anders investigated how the student government uses its money, for example.
This year, as the first junior to hold the Stiqayu's top spot and facing declining funding and dwindling readership, Anders scaled back the paper's production. He cut costs by about half and changed the format.
“I feel like the guy who's watching this die on his watch,” Anders said.
The newspaper's closing got Anders thinking about other ways to deliver the news. He discussed the student broadcasts with City Councilman Mike Todd.
“The community would love to see what they're doing,” Todd said.
Todd said he was impressed with Anders and the work he is doing at school and in the community.
“He's just a mover and a shaker,” Todd said.
Despite some of the challenges Anders has encountered, the craft has afforded him opportunities beyond the experience of most of high school journalists.
“It kind of sucked me in,” he said. “I've lived and breathed journalism ever since.”
Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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