"Blockbuster" unveils new online edition

Distance Learning yields yet another “silver lining” for students and faculty struggling to adapt to the new educational landscape

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

"Blockbuster" unveils new online editionThe newly unveiled Blockbuster Blast — a supplement to the print edition which has served as the official newspaper of Burroughs High School for 75 years — has allowed this year’s intrepid team of students to push their publication into the future while tapping into the periodical’s roots.

One of the well-documented challenges of Distance Learning is the difficulty collaborating without the benefit of in-person interaction. Newswriting teacher Susan Burgess, drawing on her experience not only as an adviser but a former student contributor, realized that this was the perfect year to make the transition to an online edition — “something we’ve talked about doing for years.”

Previous classes began pointing the needle in that direction by transitioning content to PDF format, but “Distance Learning has finally forced the issue — and I’m grateful.

“At the start of this year, I wasn’t sure we were even going to be able to produce a paper. And now we are working to create a publication that has even more potential.”

Burgess recalled that as a sophomore in the 1980s, students still glued columns of text onto layout sheets, which were printed by Darleen Bewley and the school’s offset printing class. “We’d gather around the light table, trying to paste the stories up.” By the time she was a senior, Newswriting was the first classroom to get a computer (albeit a row of bulky, archaic Kaypros) on campus. In the ensuing decades, technology has proliferated around campus, growing sleeker and more capable.

She stepped into her current role as the Blockbuster adviser in 2007. While her role is different, the mission remains the same.

“The paper is a vehicle to promote school culture and explore issues of importance with our students. I believe it helps our Burroughs family connect with one another — something we need now more than ever. It’s also an important tool for documenting our achievements and showcasing the creativity of our students.”

When campuses first closed last March, the dedicated team (who arrives at school nearly an hour before the main bell rings for the class) shifted from early-morning waffle parties and camaraderie to Zoom screens connected to their teacher, sitting in a dark, empty classroom with piled-up desks and chairs.

With a return to classrooms projected beyond the near horizon, Burgess and her team dove into the next iteration.

“When I was researching the early days of the Blockbuster, I discovered that the publication was originally a Social Studies class project,” said Burgess. That early format, which included a physical bulletin board to host content, has now grown from that to newsprint to “widgets, podcasts and story tags. The shift should make me feel old, but it’s actually so energizing!”

The class also learned the true origins of the periodical’s name. “While today’s students probably think of the old video store, if they think of anything, we discovered the etymology was a bit more meaningful, given the local connection to weapons development. Adding to the original Blockbuster name allows us to pay homage to that pun on ‘hit’ or ‘explosion,’ but I also want the students to have a blast producing the paper and reading it.”

“I hope we can bring more attention to the paper because it can have a positive effect on Burroughs’ culture this year,” said Nicholas Baca, one of the publication’s student editors-in-chief.

He noted that the new format allows more “real time” reporting opportunities, compared to the former two-week production period.

“Before we were limited by our print schedule,” said Burgess. Now media can be updated as needed, which allows reader feedback and the integration of videos, photo galleries and other media.

“Most importantly, with fewer activities going on at school, our stories get to feature more students individually or in small groups, which I think overall brings people to read the paper. And it makes it more personalized,” said Baca.

Alexandra Gerber, the other editor-in-chief, is one of the contributors who gives some of the smaller clubs on campus a voice. Some of these activities “I would have no idea existed without the newspaper,” she said.

The staff is also able to contribute more features and opinion pieces.

“I think this new edition of the Blockbuster will provide better student outreach … with so much negatively changing how we are learning, and our day-to-day lives, sometimes it’s nice to read something lighthearted and positive for a change.”

“I hope the new format for the Blockbuster offers a more available newspaper for people to read, since it will be available for everyone to access,” said Canon Rank, a junior and second-year member of the staff.

Mozzma Chaudhary, another second-year student, misses the “man-on-the-street” style reporting, but said that she appreciates the new format providing an opportunity to learn some new skills — and even hone her writing.

ZJ Hoffman, the photo editor for the Blockbuster, admitted that the website took some getting used to. “I hope that students will visit and will read the website and get them interested in our school, even though we are distance learning.”

“Our online edition is very image-driven, so we are going to be challenged to come up with artwork that captures the spirit of a story and the attention of readers,” said Burgess.

However, this has been another avenue for student ingenuity and innovation to shine. “If it were a normal year, we’d have another familiar photo of students painting a poster to promote the next spirit day,” said Burgess.

Instead, ZJ Hoffmann took drone captures of the eerily empty school.

Annika Houck serves as the copy editor, helping ensure the quality and accuracy of the posted content.

“Being a part of newswriting makes me feel involved at Burroughs,” she said. “We get to highlight the diversity of our student body and the numerous opportunities available to the students.”

However, she noted that while “this year is of course very bizarre for everyone,” each year in the class offers different challenges.

“It’s truly upsetting that we are not able to print and distribute physical copies of our paper. But I am excited to see how our solution evolves over the course of the year.”

“This year is a little challenging and different for everyone,” said Amna Chaudhry, another second-year student.

“I hope that Blockbuster would do a great job online … even in this pandemic, we didn’t give up. Instead, we came up with different ways to continue and offer the kind of news to students.”

“While I wish we had taken this on years ago — I’ve had great staffs over the years, and they would have had so much fun — I’m glad this year’s staff has something to challenge them and keep them motivated,” said Burgess.

“This year has been full of too much disappointment and lost opportunities; I’m glad to provide something for them that is new and exciting.”

Visit The Blockbuster Blast at bhsblast.org.

Pictured: Members of the Burroughs High School Newswriting team discuss their new online edition via Zoom. — Photo by Susan Burgess

Story First Published: 2020-10-02