A non-profit organization has formed in response to the controversial elimination of a Nebraska student newspaper.
In June, Grand Island’s Northwest High School made international headlines after the school district’s superintendent shut down the student paper, the Viking Saga, in what appeared to be retaliation for the student’s publishing supporting articles and editorials on LGBTQ issues.
We Will Press was formed after Tim Wardyn and Jared Rawlings met through mutual contacts after Wardyn had posted an open letter on Facebook about the sudden halt of the 54-year-old school newspaper.
“We tried to figure out how we could tangibly do something, as opposed to writing something and kind of ranting and then letting it go,” Wardyn said. “We wanted to do something actionable.”
Wardyn’s open letter on Facebook began to receive more signatures than he anticipated, so another alumnus of Northwest High School inputted it into a shareable Google form, which boosted the traction of signatures.
The open letter, now embedded on We Will Press website, currently has 227 signatures from Northwest High School alums, community members, former teachers, one former school board member and journalists across the country.
Last month, the Grand Island Northwest school district announced plans to reinstate the high school’s paper as an online publication this spring.
Wardyn expressed mixed emotions about the announcement and the district’s lack of addressing the original concern— censorship.
“I’m excited because I feel that we at least partially accomplished the task we set out to do in reinstating the newspaper,” Wardyn said. “I am skeptical, however, that the students will not have the same freedoms that they enjoyed previously.”
Wardyn, a 1998 graduate of Northwest High, is the organization’s executive director. Rawlings, who is director of communications of We Will Press, didn’t attend Northwest, but lived in the district next to it. His wife and brother-in-law attended Northwest and wrote for the school newspaper. Rawling’s brother-in-law also served as an editor, and told Rawlings about the disbandment of the school’s paper.
“It was a pretty audacious story that a school administration unilaterally shut down not only the paper but the program effectively,” Rawlings said.
We Will Press plans to focus on these three areas:
- Advocacy: The organization said it is primarily focused on supporting Grand Island’s Northwest students, but plans to look at other ways to advocate for student journalists across Nebraska.
- Mentorships: The organization plans to create a program to pair student journalists with industry professionals to help train and equip them with tools to succeed in pursuing careers in journalism.
- Scholarships: The organization plans to raise money for a scholarship fund for students who want to pursue journalism in college.
We Will Press is still working on reaching out to the public and getting their name out for students to know they are a resource that can help them with their journalism aspirations, Wardyn said.
“We’re trying to let students know we’re here for you,” Wardyn said. “Tell us what you need and want to do, and let us help get you in touch with people who can help you.”