In the early spring of last year, I was selected by the editor of The Tribune-Democrat to serve as a voice for young community members on the publication’s Reader Advisory Committee.

For the past year, several other adults from this region and myself have met with Chip Minemyer to discuss the work of the news media against the backdrop of our community – ensuring that most of the concerns and ideas of people from different backgrounds are brought to the attention of the newspaper.

As our group continued to meet, I brought the interests and visions of my peers to the table. Occasionally, the newspaper publishes sections of student opinions and pieces, but it has not been a coordinated feature recently. So I saw this as an opportunity for students to have a permanent voice in the community.

Among the schools and the youth in our communities around us, I knew that so many of them had things they wanted to express, to share and to change. The Tribune started reaching out to school districts and their teachers and I did the same through my friends. Together we started to generate interest in a new student-run section of the paper with social media content.

The student paper envisioned will not only be solely a physical page, but would introduce a fresh perspective of journalism utilizing the internet and social media sites.

Social media sites, such as TikTok and Instagram, are great places to capture teens’ attention. This new project will not only help students craft and hone their writing skills, but they’ll also learn how to fact-check and spot bias, while exploring journalism ethics, social media tools and other standard practices in the profession.

In addition to traditional written columns, students can create their own content that can be shared through video on TikTok or Instagram. Take for example a trending video on the 30-second video app TikTok, of Bill Nye wearing a face mask while attempting to blow out a candle. By doing so, he is not only showing the effectiveness of wearing a mask, but he also was able to reach out to a broader audience and one that is not easily reached.

Another example could be a video blog that an athlete records that gives the inside perspective of a football season – or a blog featuring a theater production or a cooking class.

This project, named “On Point,” brings area schools and their students in Cambria and Somerset counties and the surrounding region together. Not only do all of these areas share budding journalism students, but they also share a river system. The Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh rivers come from two separate directions, but when they meet near the Stone Bridge in Johnstown, they form a point, and become the Conemaugh River.

I view this as a metaphor for the student publication, which will be run by students and for students. By coming to a point, all of the voices that have yet to be heard meet here in Johnstown at The Tribune-Democrat. 

But instead of simply sending a single letter to this paper, there is a section created for the purpose of today’s youth making their points – and sharing them with the community.

As we roll out this student project, we encourage young motivated writers, artists, photographers and social media users to come and share their ideas and creative skills.

Today, you can find this student-driven content online at www.tribdem.com/onpoint.

As this project grows, we hope that more schools will join us. We are so excited to train a new generation of journalists seeking truth and reflecting what’s happening in their lives and in their communities.

Sophia Tuinstra is a junior at Westmont Hilltop High School and a member of The Tribune-Democrat’s Reader Advisory Committee.

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