SUMMIT, NJ - The students in Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School’s digital newsroom cycle classes for eighth graders recently learned tips from a professional journalist and were offered the opportunity to have their own “byline.”
 
Mike Shapiro, publisher and managing editor of TheAlternativePress.com, visited the Digital Newsroom students of teachers Larry Cohen and Dory Marcus on December 6. The Digital Newsroom is one of six new cycle classes introduced for eighth graders last school year in which students learn how to develop, write, organize, and publish an online newspaper.
 
 
“They’re learning the basics of journalism,” said Cohen, “How to search out interesting topics, how to write a news story, report accurate quotes, and the difference between opinion and reporting. Hearing from a professional journalist is something that will really add to their concept of how a real newspaper is run.”
 
State’s first all-online local newspaper
 

Shapiro started the online newspaper in October 2008 covering New Providence, Summit, and Berkeley Heights. The site now covers 12 towns and will soon be adding a 13th.
 
According to Shapiro, his site, the first all-online daily local in the state, last year had 400,000 unique users, meaning there were 400,000 initial visits to the site – that number does not include subsequent visits by the same reader – making it one of the most popular online New Jersey news sources.
 
In his presentation, which was supplemented by a projection of thealternativepress.com, Shapiro told the students about his transition from New York City attorney to online journalist and how he built up his newspaper. He also provided tips on how to be a good reporter.
 
“A good journalist is totally objective,” he told the students. “It’s sometimes hard to keep your own opinion or feelings out of what you write, but it’s important that a reporter fairly cover all angles of a story.”
 
Shapiro also warned of the temptations of plagarism - particularly when information compiled by others is so readily available on the internet – and the importance of doing thorough research.
 
He took the students on a visual tour of thealternativepress.com, pointing out the site’s sections such as the community calendar, business directory, real estate listings, and feature columns.
 
Shapiro also made a tempting offer to the budding journalists – an opportunity to write a column for thealternativepress.com featuring their own “byline.” Their column would appear in the “Panther Pulse” section of the site, where articles by Lawton C. Johnson Summit Middle School digital newsroom students appeared last school year.
 
“When we receive a story from one of the students that we think is well-written and appropriate for TheAlternativePress.com site, we’ll get permission from the student’s parent and then forward it to Mr. Shapiro for his site,” said teacher Dory Marcus. “This is a great opportunity for an eighth grader to be a published reporter, and we want to thank the Alternative Press for its offer.”