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December 09, 2016
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Manor Ink: One year in the making

Barbara Gref oversees a group of young journalists at the Manor Ink meeting in Livingston Manor, NY.
TRR photos by Isabel Braverman

LIVINGSTON MANOR, NY — In the upstairs of the Livingston Manor library, a group of young newspaper publishers sits around a table. In front of each is a laptop. This is the weekly Monday meeting for Manor Ink, a “library-based, youth-led newspaper” in Livingston Manor.

Barbara Gref, one of the mentors of Manor Ink, is talking to two teenagers who are working on an article that has no headline. Gref spurs some creative thinking: “What are some of the plants that the article talks about?” Gem Helper, the writer, lists Japanese knotweed and Japanese honeysuckle. Brandon Sparkman has an idea. “Japan attacks us with plants,” he suggests.

Such a scene is common in a newsroom, where coming up with headlines can be a difficult but also creative process. The young writers at Manor Ink are happy to throw out ideas and collaborate with each other. Sparkman was sitting with Helper and editing the article that she wrote about invasive species. Gref, a journalist, oversees the 12-member group along with other mentors Chatral A’dze, Carolyn Bivins, Maria Bivins, Marge Feuerstein, Peggy Johansen, Joe Koerner and Amanda Watts. The young journalists do everything from pitching story ideas and writing articles, to selling ads, to taking photographs, with the mentors helping them along the way.

Manor Ink celebrated its first birthday in June. After a year of putting out monthly publications, Gref said they have grown. The paper started out with eight pages and is now up to 16. They are seeing more revenue from ads. They have a website, which is managed by Leif Johansen, a 15-year-old. They are collaborating with the library, local organizations and people from the town, and because of this collaboration were named “Non-profit Innovation of the Year” in Sullivan County, and received grants from the Lazare and Charlotte Kaplan Foundation and the Nicholas B. Ottoway Foundation. Gref said, “The support of the town has been tremendous. People are very happy to have this vehicle for information.”

People are happy because up until a year ago, Livingston Manor had no community newspaper, after having lost both the community and school newspapers. Gref said this created a “news desert,” which is a term that’s being widely used across the nation meaning that a community is dry of news. “Places that aren’t so ritzy are in the news desert,” said Gref. “It’s becoming common; we have small places where the newspapers are being shut down.” Manor Ink stepped in to bring some life into the desert, and to preserve and promote local news.

The free newspaper is distributed to many places in Sullivan County, with most going to Livingston Manor. “We’re very dedicated to Livingston Manor,” said Gref. “In fact, if we can walk to the story we’re really happy.” She adds that the team does go to other places, such as Bethel Woods, and the Shandelee Music Festival, and will go to the New York State legislature after receiving an invitation from Aileen Gunther. “People are very supportive,” said Gref, “because it’s young people and they want them to have those experiences.”

Currently, the youngest on board is 11 and the oldest is 17. Some of the kids have been there since the beginning and others are just starting out, including Mia, who was there for her first meeting. Tyler Young will be a senior at Livingston Manor High School in the fall. At the meeting he was working on his monthly column about the town board meeting. His favorite story was when he interviewed the head photographer for Rolling Stone Magazine, Barry Wolman. “I remember my first interview,” said Young. “That was scary. I did all the talking.”

Helper, 14, and Sparkman, 16, along with Young, have an interest in music. When asked if he wanted to pursue journalism, Sparkman said, “No. I’m just here for fun,” and said his first passion is music and that he plays “plenty” of instruments. Young chimed in, “He can play anything you give to him; just put it that way.”

Helper will be moving to New York City soon and hopes to attend La Guardia High School of Music & Performing Arts. Helper writes a monthly column about character traits, and is working on one about honesty. “I find that writing articles also helps you write a bunch of other stuff,” she explained. “I write a variety of things; I write books and poems, I’m actually starting a screenplay, and I write songs.”

The many interests and talents of the smart young staff of Manor Ink lend to the creative, informative and attractive newspaper. The articles range from reviews, to stories about farms, to town news, to Bob Marley lyrics. Ongoing features include the Fun Page of Happiness and the Century Club, in which a staff member interviews someone who is 80 years or older (the first was 102). Leif Johansen, who started the Century Club, said the elderly people he interviews are doing really well for their age. “I interviewed a 96-year-old woman who is probably more active than all the other people I’ve interviewed combined.”

The June issue of Manor Ink commemorated its first year with a letter from the editors. They wrote, “We all believe our first articles were a major stepping stone for us,” and that, “their grades in English have improved, sometimes drastically.” They ended with, “This is a proud moment, and we hope only to keep expanding.” Congratulations to Manor Ink. Visit www.manorink.com.