Editor’s note: A year ago, the Journalism Education Association/National Scholastic Press Association convention was in Anaheim. The convention co-chairs were Jolene Combs and Konnie Krislock. We in the JEA Mentoring Program were especially proud of their work, as they were mentors in the program. They put on a great convention – in part because they were such great friends. Then just three months later, Jolene died of complications related to pneumonia. This is Konnie’s story of the friendships formed through student media. This story originally appeared in the California Newspaper Publishers Association Bulletin.

by Konnie Krislock
California Mentor

Of the many reasons high school students give for signing up for an elective they see relevant in the future — learn to write and research, use the latest in technology and “get involved” — the one that resonates is this: “Iʼve found a home!”

“Itʼs the first place I felt like I had a family in high school,” one editor told me.

Konnie Krislock (left) and Jolene Combs met as college students at the University of Southern California. They continued their friendship and collaborations as high school journalism teachers. Here they are in 2009 as directors of a summer journalism program, newspapers2, at Cal State Long Beach.

After mentoring more than 25 Southern California journalism programs in the past four years, I realize that is the journalism classroomʼs singular appeal: a place to call your own and friends who will support you. And, we donʼt talk about that feature often enough.

In the chaos that is high school, often only those students who “find a place to call their own” succeed socially and intellectually. Team spirit lives on sporting fields and indoor venues, seldom in academic classrooms.

But visit a newsroom, yearbook office or broadcast studio at the local high school and that spirit is alive and well. Journalists share computers, digital cameras and Flip videos in their vision to create new age publications as well as online and on-air newsworthy media.

Thanks to English teaching emphasis on “peer editing,” students are less likely to cringe when their journalistic writing is criticized, edited or hacked in half to accommodate space restrictions. Coaching writing, the hardest work of all, is now possible even in the most uneasy teenage angst setting. The process becomes more acceptable and even, sometimes, welcome. One friend helping another succeed in a tough, personal venue — writing for readability. Proofreading and knowing the AP Stylebook is required and those scoring the highest grades on style tests are MVPs in these scholastic newsrooms.

At my high school reunion several years ago, we talked of stories we had covered in that four-page, monthly publication and of our adviser, Mrs. Slaton.

Fast forward to college. I have fond memories of our managing editor, Hal Drake, sitting high in the rim screaming at cub reporters to “get out there and find out about the red tide” from a biology teacher. “Donʼt just go to the beach,” he warned. And our adviser, Fredrick C. Coonradt, watching it all with fatherly pride from his office on the top floor of the Student Union.

Anaheim convention co-chairs Konnie Krislock and Jolene Combs welcomed the participants in the Outreach Academy. Dawn Nelson (on left) was the Anaheim local Outreach coordinator.

At USC, I also met my lifelong friend, Jolene Combs. She died this summer reminding me that gone now is the one person who was my consistent proofreader. Not just of my writing but of my life.

As neighborhood journalism advisers at Hawthorne and Redondo high schools, we forged a bond for ourselves and our students in the ‘70s that is consistent and constant.

Our first students, now in their 50s, often reach out to tell us stories of the newsroom at high school (some of those stories we are just now learning) that changed their lives.

“I pierced your ears,” one reminded me.

“Jolene, you were the first person to tell me I was a good writer,” another explained. “You made me believe in a future.”

Advisers may not lead the pep squad, but they get a great return on the team-building environment they create. We are the teachers who get phone calls, emails, even the occasional snail-mail note remembering a good time or a meaningful moment on staff.

“What were you thinking,” Jill McFarlane asked me recently, “taking Cougar Staff camping at the beach (El Moro) one weekend?”

I understand many of those “good times” as journalism family are not possible now, but to know that the world of high school publications provided memories that have lasted more than 30 years is enough reason to honor the profession at the high school level.

I donʼt think we need to worry about the future of journalism in this arena. The writers and editors know the best of the future when they see it.

It is proof of friendship.