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Legendary sportswriter visits PMHS as students launch online-only paper

Sportswriter John Papanek

It was a big week for young journalists at The Red & Black, Patchogue-Medford High School’s student newspaper.

First, they awoke to see news of their nearly 90-year-old publication now going online-only splashed on the cover of their community newspaper, The Long Island Advance.

Later that same day, the students were treated to a visit by legendary sports journalist and 1969 Patchogue-Medford High School graduate John Papanek.

Papanek is notable for being the founding managing editor of Sports Illustrated For Kids magazine, the first editor-in-chief of ESPN The Magazine, and serving as the leading editor at ESPN.com, according to a Sports Illustrated bio entry.

He’s also in the Patchogue-Medford Hall of Fame.

The importance of Papanek’s visit wasn’t lost on Matthew Correa, 16, an 11th grader who’s in the newspaper club, which does a bulk of the work putting The Red & Black website together.

“He’s obviously been around to do things most journalists can never dream of,” Correa said. “That he’s able to transfer that experience to us is just inspiring.”

That experience includes overseeing and managing some of the top sports journalists in the world as organizations like SI and ESPN published to digital platforms for the first time. So his visit was timely, as The Red & Black — founded in 1928 — did the same earlier this school year.

Not only did the students and advisors at The Red & Black create a website, the publication ditched its print newspaper entirely (though there are plans for a bi-annual magazine).

On “a good year,” the old Red & Black newspaper published four times between September and June, said Alison Mckeough, who advisers the group with a colleague, Michele Sullivan. The two English teachers took over as faculty advisers to the club this year.

There was no pushback over discontinuing the print newspaper, Mckeough said.

“We’ve actually gotten a lot of positive feedback, that the website looks so professional,” she said. “And from a student body standpoint, they’re happy to see a more accessible format with a more regular turnover in articles.”

“With the old paper, by the time you got the print copy everything published was months old; how relevant was that?” she continued. “When you’re writing homecoming articles that aren’t getting published until December, that becomes a problem.”

During his lecture to the students, Papanek focused on a theme of blessings and curses.

Of course, digital platforms allow for more timely, even real-time reporting, however it can be difficult for consumers of news to navigate the modern-day journalistic landscape when it comes to figuring out what’s real journalism and what’s not.

Truth and facts, Papanek stressed to the students, is what journalism is all about.

As a reporter, “you have to make facts the central component of the work that you do,” Papanek later said in an interview. “You have to get the details and make it right, and it can take a lot of work to do it, but [accuracy] is much more important than how fancy your prose is.”

As for growing The Red & Black website, Mckeough said the next steps will be to publish more throughout the week, between what the staff calls news surges, when they upload a lot of content at once.

They’ll also be looking to publish more video clips and video features.

“We’re also looking to do more in-depth journalism,” she said. “And tackle some big topics.”

Papanek is confident in them.

“Those kids, they were so interested and engaged,” he said after last Thursday’s lecture. “They showed me a lot of spark and a lot of interest. I was impressed, really.”


Photos: John Papanek speaks with journalism students at the Patchogue-Medford High School library last week. (Credit Michael White)

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About The Red & Black

About the author: Michael White

Michael White is a Bellport resident, longtime newspaper reporter and editor, and the owner of greaterpatchogue.com. Email him your story ideas or tips: mike@greaterpatchogue.com