Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
At 16 years old, Emily Varner was able to see her name in a byline. She worked for a month as the temporary sports writer at the DuQuoin Weekly, her local paper. The process to get accepted was not one that was tough, but an opportunity that not all students could have.
It began once Varner was placed in journalism, a choice that she didn’t make on her own. Although as time passed, there was something that sparked within her as she grasped the basic concepts of the class.
Ten students collaborated to create the Magnavox, a newsletter which was printed in the DuQuoin Evening Call, keeping the town up to date with the activities at the school.
Around the same timeframe that Varner began working on the Magnavox, another DuQuoin newspaper was beginning to arise, with a dilemma that needed to be solved.
The DuQuoin Weekly was a newly formed paper, one that had a vacancy in the sports department. They came to the high school, offering the position to anyone that was interested in having a taste of the professional journalism world.
The Magnavox opened a previously invisible door for her, allowing Varner to take her interest in journalism a step further than her peers could. She was interested in the position so she applied, scoring an interview and successfully passing, being hired as the temporary sports department for the DuQuoin Weekly.
In the position, Varner was responsible for writing articles that focused primarily on volleyball and basketball as well as taking photos of the games.
Although it was a temporary position, Varner had criticisms that made her develop strong writing skills as well as see through the window of what professional journalism really was. It also determined for her that she would not want to pursue a career in sports journalism.
The newspaper was different from her typical school newspaper, which censored the students. The district only allowed the student journalists to paint a positive picture of the high school, which wasn’t something that was always easy.
In the course of the year that Varner has been in journalism, it helped her develop a different persona. “[What I’ve learned is that] In journalism, you need to be forward with your audience and give people the information that they need to hear, not what they want to hear.”
She has met various people along the way that have helped her shape her articles, some of her favorites to write about was the homecoming dance and other traditions they participated. This included a bonfire in the football field and hayrides in the back of trucks along the same time when the homecoming dance was.
Along with the people she has met and the traditions that she has followed, one piece of advice has stuck with her from her editor. “You shouldn’t be afraid to let the truth out, even if you’re threatened.”