Hold the front page

17th May 1996 at 01:00
Carolyn O'Grady spends a day with primary school pupils putting their own newspaper together in London's Docklands. Salma Begum and Jorna Begum, both aged 11, have created the masthead for their newspaper, SJ Express, from their names, and have now moved on to their lead story. They have chosen the Legoland theme park as the subject. Having scoured the day's national newspapers for details of the story, the two girls are putting together their own version, headlined "City of bricks".

Inside the room where they are working, posters about newspapers enliven the walls; banks of computers are occupied by their fellow journalists-for-a- day; a whiteboard with a list of the day's stories stands at one end of the room; on a large board are listed the five "Ws" of journalism (the questions that have to be answered in a story): "Who?", "What?", "Where?", "When?" and "Why?".

The "Where?" for these pupils today is West Ferry Printers, a printing company in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, jointly owned by The Telegraph plc and Express Newspapers, which last year opened its News Resource Centre, a facility for Tower Hamlets schools. It is sponsored by the London Docklands Development Corporation, British Telecom, The Daily Telegraph and Express Newspapers among others. Between last September and this July about 1,000 children will have passed through it.

The "Why?" is a project that offers each school a week of activities. It begins with a tour of The Daily Telegraph offices and the West Ferry printing works for a whole class. Then, groups of eight from the same class are given another day at the centre, where they put together the front page of their own newspaper.

To reach the room where they work, the pupils have to walk along a gangway overlooking the cavernous press hall where more than 2.3 million national newspapers are printed each day. They have watched the papers being printed and the overhead conveyors transporting thousands of finished copies to the publishing hall. From the window they can see Canary Wharf, where many national newspapers are based; they can also glimpse evidence of one of the biggest and grimmest stories of this year, the ruins of the IRA-bombed buildings.

"What we offer is a mini work-experience," says Anna Pangbourne, ex-teacher and centre manager. "It's a real-life experience and they have a product at the end of it. They have to finish it in one day, and meet deadlines as though they were working in an adult environment."

The eight pupils at the centre today are 11-year-olds from Marner School, a primary in Tower Hamlets. Earlier in the week they toured the offices of The Daily Telegraph in Canary Wharf with their whole class, visiting home news, foreign news, books, TV and radio and other sections. They met cartoonist Matt Pritchett, who draws the "Matt" pocket cartoon. He talked about the strains of producing six cartoons a day, from which one is chosen.

In the afternoon they made the short journey to the West Ferry printing works to see the plate-making room, press hall, publishing hall, where the newspapers are stacked, and fax room. They also spent time watching robots transporting the huge reels of paper to and from the reel store. An exciting experience, because the robots are undoubtedly efficient, and spectacular - but disappointing, some found, because they didn't look like R2D2.

The day at the News Resource Centre is fast-paced, almost frenetic. The children have already done some work on newspapers at school with the two teachers who accompany them. They investigated different sorts of newspaper styles and looked at features, cartoons and news stories. Language games and crosswords were also introduced. For history, they interviewed members of staff about the l940s.

But today's experience is much more intense. Pupils are encouraged to learn fast, so that they can do tasks independently. Working to deadlines, they rapidly fill in the newspaper template on their screens. The first story is inspired by the national newspapers. The second is usually one they choose from up-to-the-minute stories that come over the wire service.

Often they are ahead of the national papers with their stories, says Anna Pangbourne. But today that computer is down, so the young people choose their own story. Salma and Jorna choose a subject closer to home: a small feature on the retirement of their headmistress accompanied by a drawing. Elsewhere, Regina Begum and Shaheda Khanom are doing a story on cartoonist Matt Pritchett, who won an award that day. He likes to work near a window and his desk "is a bit of a mess", they comment.

Then, after a discussion on what an advertisement is about, the pupils design their own on the page, using pictures from newspapers or from the "clip art" section of the Microsoft Publishing program. Salma and Jorna offer a trip to Legoland; others sell a tractor and wedding cakes. Pupils also scan photographs and drawings, including ones of themselves, into the computer and learn quickly how to rotate them, trim them to size on the screen and caption them. They learn how to move to and fro between a story and the whole page, and how to reduce and enlarge the type face as well as change it.

Lunch is in the works canteen and the pupils return for more work at their computer screens. First, however, they watch the local news on television and practise their note-taking skills. It's not easy. The newsreader talks fast and the language is tightly composed, but they do well when Anna Pangbourne questions them on the stories. She then asks them to write one story they can remember.

Finally, the pages are proof-read on the screen, tidied up and printed out. Each pupil receives a copy, as does the school which can then use them to create a display or a focus for an assembly.

"It's been a good day," says teacher Mark Mee. "They have to apply new skills all the time. They have new challenges. They have to write in a variety of styles and for different readerships and they also have to work cooperatively. "

News Resource Centre, West Ferry Printers, 235 Westferry Road, London E14 8NX. Tel: 0171 538 3100 * Awards for this year's TES Newspaper Day, which was held in March, will be presented at the House of Commons on Monday by ITN newsreader Dermot Murnaghan (see page IV). Over 400 primary, secondary and international schools entered this year, compiling their newspapers on a single day from news supplied by an agency on-line, and from features prepared in advance. Schools interested in entering next year's TES Newspaper Day, sponsored by Xemplar, should contact Rosemary Thornhill at The TES, on 0171 782 3358.

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