Claire Mason is confident in her school newspaper, the Aragon Outlook.
“Our paper’s good,” Mason said. “We’ve won a handful of awards.”
But Mason jumped at the opportunity to get her paper critiqued with John Kupetz, a longtime cherubs instructor and former Northwestern assistant professor. Kupetz said he has marked up thousands of school papers with green ink since his first critique in 1982.
Kupetz sent Mason’s paper back covered in green ink.
“We have room to improve,” Mason of Foster City, California, said.
Mason was not alone. Every cherub had the same opportunity for Kupetz to look at their school newspaper and see strengths and point out problems.
“On each page, there was at least half the page filled with his green ink,” Jenny Huh of Ranchos Palos Verdes, California, said.
“I see the same mistakes over time,” Kupetz said. He said screening text, “teacher features” and bumping headlines have consistently plagued editors.
Eric Neugeboren, print managing editor of The Black & White at Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Maryland, called his paper “above average.” He said Kupetz still gave him considerable edits.
“His critique shined a light on stuff we wouldn’t necessarily catch,” Neugeboren said. “Some of our leads for our feature and sports stories were kind of cliché. His main thing about all our stories was they needed a bigger relevance to our school.”
Grayson Welo of Weston, Massachusetts, said she has more trouble with her paper.
“I go to a private school,” Welo said. “There’s a lot of censorship. They don’t want anything put in the newspaper to somehow insult or offend anyone who gives money to the school.”
Welo said she was “intimidated” ahead of the workshop and worried that Kupetz would call out her individual mistakes in front of the group.
“I was scared at first that he was going to point out every critique and every mistake in my newspaper, but it was not like that, which was really refreshing,” she said.
Kupetz said he couldn’t run the program any other way.
“It’s almost instinct as a teacher,” he said. “By the time we’re done, we’re laughing and joking with each other. Nobody’s feeling like they’re going to get called out because everyone’s making mistakes and learning from them.”
Neugeboren said the critique still took him down a few pegs.
“You can’t get better at anything without people pointing out that you’re wrong,” he said.
But Kupetz said at least one thing has improved since the earliest critiques.
“More and more, people are spelling ‘adviser’ correctly in their staff box,” Kupetz said. “It’s with ‘ER’. That’s a low-hanging fruit that we’re slowly picking off.”