University of South Carolina

A commitment to scholastic journalism

By Megan Sexton, msexton@mailbox.sc.edu, 803-777-1421

Karen Flowers was teaching English at Airport High School in the fall of 1972 when the school’s newspaper adviser was feeling overwhelmed and threatening to quit. That’s when Flowers made a simple offer that would change her career path.

“I’ll help,” she told the teacher, taking her initial steps – with little preparation -- into the world of scholastic journalism.

“Let me tell you where I started. The first night the editor told me I needed to check the bylines. My question was, ‘What’s a byline?’”

The story may seem hard to imagine now. Flowers is known around the state as a leader of scholastic journalism. She spent 30 years in high school classrooms, teaching English and journalism and advising newspaper staffs at Airport and Irmo high schools, before joining USC in 2000. She now is director of both the South Carolina Scholastic Press Association (SCSPA) and the Southern Interscholastic Press Association (SIPA), the state and regional scholastic media organizations with headquarters in USC’s College of Mass Communications and Information Studies.

“Journalism took me by surprise. I never dreamed I’d love it so much,” Flowers says. “What I still love is that it’s always new. I tell the students that it’s such a great time to be in journalism. There are so many things going on. And I love the excitement from the kids.”

She also directs the Carolina Journalism Institute, a summer workshop for advisers and students who work with middle and high school publications throughout the Southeast. Last week, about 79 student journalists and advisers were at Carolina’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, taking classes in design, writing, broadcasting, web writing and advising. As high schools deal with budget cuts and principals shift teachers into core curriculum classes, journalism classes have felt the cuts in some districts. The CJI workshop offers students and advisers the chance to understand the importance – and see the need – for student journalism.

“I love talking with them in and out of class and watching their knowledge and skills develop over the course of the workshop. This is where their year should begin. They’re getting excited about what will happen next year,” Flowers says. “This is bonding time.”

Karen Flowers and Leslie Dennis

 

Flowers’ office is something of a bonding place all year long. Many of the high school students who participate in the Carolina Journalism Institute or other scholastic journalism events become college students who attend USC. Flowers’ office in the Carolina Coliseum becomes a spot where students stop by for friendship and advice.

One of those is Leslie Dennis, who attended the Carolina Journalism Institute when she was a student at Lugoff-Elgin High School in Kershaw County. At USC, she majored in English, but still worked as a student assistant in the office. After graduation in 2007, she accepted a full-time job as the scholastic press manager, working as Flowers’ assistant.

She, too, remarks on the closeness of the scholastic journalism community.

“My favorite is when kids we knew from high school will come by the office and eat lunch with us, or they’ll come by when they are down here to get advised,” Dennis says.

For Flowers, the office sometimes serves an extension of the publication room in a high school. “It’s a place where students can hang out, a safe place in a big world,” she said. “There really is a journalism family.”

Posted: 06/17/13 @ 12:00 AM | Updated: 06/17/13 @ 3:42 PM | Permalink