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Manor Ink: One year in the making

Gem Helper writes down story ideas on the whiteboard at the Manor Ink meeting.

By Isabel Braverman
August 7, 2013

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.