By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
The classic jump rock song, “Choo choo ch’boogie,” that was recorded in 1946 by Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five and remained on the R&B charts for a record 18 weeks, contains perhaps one of the best crafted verses to describe the newspaper-readers’ lament from nearly seven decades ago.
“You reach your destination, but alas and alack! You need some compensation (money) to get back in the black. You take your morning paper from the top of the stack, and read the situations (help wanted classified ads) from the front to the back. The only job that’s open needs a man with a knack (experience); So put it right back in the stack, Jack.”
In February 2008, the venerable Beaver Voice high school newspaper went paper-less, and since that time, there have been no stacks to return the student newspaper to. The high school’s online or electronic edition has been keeping students, faculty and other readers apprised of school happenings with an easy-to-use site for six years. To find it, just Google: “Beaver Voice at Bluefield, WV High School” and the reader is a mouse click away from a wealth of information about past, current and upcoming events at the school.
To a generation that primarily uses Google or another search engine to find telephone numbers, the online edition of a high school student newspaper is perfect for a technically savvy student body.
“While most people think the term geek to be bad, I find it to be great!” Daniel Osborne, a member of the Beaver Voice staff, wrote in his online profile.
To think of the staff as geeks would be wrong. Aramus “Moose” Wimmer, sophomore editor of the paper, authored a story about fellow staff member, Molly Lovern, in November 2013, when Lovern signed a letter-of-intent to play collegiate tennis at Shepherd University. The Beaver Voice staff appears to be as diverse as the BHS student body itself.
“We’ve gained so many more readers by having an online edition,” Gretchen Harshbarger, Beaver Voice advisor and BHS English teacher said. “Since we started this online edition six years ago, we have had over one million hits on our site. I receive emails and phone calls from other student newspapers in the state from people who ask how we got it started.”
Harshbarger followed Becky Steorts in the position of school newspaper advisor. Steorts had a well-earned reputation of honing the talents of her student-staff members.
“After Becky left, I knew those were huge shoes to fill,” Harshbarger said. “I wanted to develop something that kept the traditional elements of a newspaper and put it in a format that students use.”
Harshbarger said that at about that time, two of her young student staff members, Jordan Stuart and Marcus Constantino, stepped forward with an offer to build a student newspaper website. “They said that we can help you make that happen, and they did,” Harshbarger said. They started on the project in November 2007, and had the site up and running in February 2008.
“As educators, we do have to keep abreast of developments in technology,” Harshbarger said. “I’m online all the time with this computer technology. I think that’s important in the classroom and with the student newspaper.
“I’m proud and excited that our students work on an online newspaper,” Harshbarger said. “We include frequent updates and I try to rotate the features frequently to keep them fresh. If I have a student staff member who is really interested in the movies or in music, I get them to write features about that.”
Harshbarger said that different readers go to different parts of the site first. “Students seem to go straight for the pictures while adult readers go to the stories. We update daily — Monday through Friday — and students seem to enjoy that.” There’s information on scholarship availability from the counselor’s corner, plenty of sports pictures, as well as photo essays from field trips.
Harshbarger selects the incoming editor and lets that student work with the senior editor for a full year before taking the reins the following year. Alexandria “Alex” Lewis will complete her term as senior editor this spring while Aramus “Moose” Wimmer will move into the editor’s position in the fall.
The Beaver Voice is the only paperless online newspaper in Mercer County and one of only a few online high school newspapers statewide, according to Harshbarger. The paper has an average 854 visits per day.
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com