By Jan Worth-Nelson
Paxon Laube-Clary’s head hurt. Stuck at home in pandemic shutdown, he was spending three to four hours a day of screen time keeping up with his classes at the Perry Innovation Center in Grand Blanc.
His friend since preschool, Julian Pauli, home from the Flint Cultural Center Academy, was in the same condition. They thought it might be fun to do something different — something off the screen.
So they started a newspaper.
Hard copy, paper, ink, printed downtown and delivered by bike to their neighbors — just like, well, the 20th century.
But these new journalists are eight years old.
Their new publication, Flint City Newspaper: Kids’ Edition, recently rolled off the presses — or, actually, slid from copiers at FlintPrints — for its first edition of what the young journalists hope to be a monthly production.
“The pandemic had a lot to do with it,” Julian said. “That’s what started the newspaper, because we didn’t have to go to school, so we were having trouble knowing what to do–so we thought of the newspaper. We thought it would be cool.”
They enlisted three other co-conspirators of the Fourth Estate, Oliver Mason, Carter Palmer and Ada Osman. All had been in Montessori classes at Durant Tuuri Mott elementary school, but have since moved to different schools. A fourth, Taya Miller, Paxon’s cousin from Wisconsin, has been recruited for the next edition.
Julian, Paxon, Oliver and Carter all live within walking distance of each other in the College Cultural Neighborhood; Ada lives in Mott Park.
“During these COVID-19 times, our pint-sized reporters have been confined to the doldrums of their homes,” Julian’s mother Vivian Kao and the grown-up editor and advisor to the project wrote in a “Note from the Parent’s Desk” of the first edition.
They may be pint-sized, but their interests range wide: the front page tackles “murder hornets” and black holes. There’s a recipe for “Blondie Bites” and an elegy for the canceled Summer Olympics.
The crew somehow managed to get the publication together even with pandemic restrictions — social distancing and masks when they got together, Julian said, which was rare. They did most of their communication online.
Kao explained the stories were adapted from the New York Times, the Washington Post, kids’ cookbooks and other sources.
Julian and Paxon both know their work can’t be copied directly from their sources — they already know the word “plagiarism” — so they had to work hard to write the pieces in their own words. “We described the words differently,” Julian said.
Four of the five distributed the first run–100 copies–door to door on their bikes. And they’re designing puzzles and researching articles for the next edition.
They’re already learning a lot.
To be a newspaper reporter, Julian said, means, “You have to pay attention to the basics, like why and where and when.”
Proving he’s already in the tribe of anxious wordsmiths, Julian said the hardest part has been “writing stories for people” and “finding the right descriptive words.”
And Paxon has joined a noble reportorial tradition–tussling with the editor.
He said his first story got edited — partly by Julian and partly by Vivian Kao. Among other issues, “Julian said it was too short,” and asked for more.
“And I said, seriously?” Paxon recalled, “wait… that’s my work and it has my name on it!”
But he went back to the drawing board and added more information, and in the end, “it was entirely my own.” The story, adapted from a report he did in school and from research, ended up on page one and everybody was happy.
The most fun part so far, Julian said, has been delivering the paper to his neighbors door-to-door.
“I liked when we dropped them off — I was thinking what would people think when they found a newspaper there.” Julian and Paxon suggest they’re providing a service, giving people relief in the pandemic — “A break from the screen,” as Paxon put it.
One of Julian’s neighbors on Beard Street is his music teacher, Alesia Byrd Johnson. She met him at the door and delivered a smile and a big thank you, he said.
What will they write about next?
“I don’t know,” Paxon says, “A lot of fun things, maybe a story about Saturn. We each have our own ways of writing and what we’re interested in. There’s going to be a puzzle.”
Julian is interested in basketball, while Paxon said, “I’m not really a sports guy.” He’s interested in space, having visited NASA and met two astronauts. He expects to write more about those topics.
The first edition was free, Paxon pointed out, but the staff plan to charge 50 cents a copy for the next edition. They hope that would cover print costs and then possibly raise money to donate to worthy COVID-related causes, like masks, food or clothes for Flint kids who need them.
“We made a deal with everyone’s parents that they pay for the first edition and then if we make enough money we will pay them back,” Paxon said.
His mother, Heather Laube, gently chimed in, “It’s possible the parents are just donating. But that’s a decision the kids have come to on their own.”
As for their futures in journalism, neither Julian or Paxon are ready to commit. for now, it’s just a fun way to get them through COVID. But Paxon, an aspiring science guy, knows writing is important.
“Maybe, eventually I’ll do it,” Paxon said, pointing out that “A lot of scientists are always writing stuff down. A lot of scientists write a lot of books.”
For more information about Flint’s newest journalists and their project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
EVM Editor Jan Worth-Nelson can be reached at email@example.com.