From J-Bird to Jive Turkey

Online underground student newspaper takes shape

Posted: Tuesday, November 05, 2002

"Jive Turkey" is not merely the 1970s word for "poser." Rather, the retro term and accompanying turkey logo have come to symbolize free speech, student independence and adolescent rebellion for a hundred or so students at Juneau-Douglas High School.

Jive Turkey is the underground, online student newspaper at JDHS. The name is a pun on the school newspaper The J-Bird, Jive Turkey's more pedestrian, administration-sanctioned cousin. The first issue of Jive Turkey was posted in early September at www.jive-turkey.com. Two months later, the paper has a hundred registered contributors and gets between 200 and 300 hits a day.

"Now, I walk down the hall and I see one of our advertisements in lockers of people I don't even know," said Devin Chalmers, Jive Turkey's managing editor and founder.

Late in the summer, Chalmers came upon a Web host on the East Coast that costs $8 a month, set up the site, and enlisted his friends for staff. A towering, messy-haired 17-year-old, Chalmers drives an aging Volkswagen bus and says he draws his journalistic inspiration from the work of edgy, "gonzo" journalist Hunter S. Thompson. On the site, where contributors are anonymous, Chalmers goes by the handle "Loquacious D."

Jive Turkey's arts and humor editors are twins Anna and Alex Gagne-Hawes ("Girl Friday" and "B"), the sports editor is Samuel Copenhagen ("Carlos Duke") and the opinion editor is Slim Cook ("George"). Jive Turkey also publishes comments and columns submitted by a pool of 100 registered contributing readers. The site garners some revenue selling Jive Turkey merchandise, such as a lunch box that bares the turkey logo with superimposed nuclear waste symbol that reads, "Warning: May contain jive."

Jive Turkey provides timely coverage of general student news such as Juneau School Board meetings, prints an advice column and posts an event calendar. Opinion essays, the bulk of them generated by Chalmers, are the controversial centerpiece. Chalmers' work spans from a sassy, rambling interview with mono-syllablic football player, to a more thoughtful, researched piece about the Bush administration's policy on Iraq. That essay, titled "Slouching Toward War," inspired close to 100 response postings, including a lengthy back-and-forth between two students over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"Adults are always saying that kids don't care about what is going on in the world," said Anna Gagne-Hawes. "But, (with the Jive-Turkey), we can say look, here are 100 responses from kids who care."

According to the editors, Jive Turkey came into being in part because the J-Bird slowly lost support after a controversy last year when the school paper published a satirical column that compared a Sitka High School's basketball loss to child abuse and rape. The column angered parents and others and caused a public outcry for stricter control by the administration. Student writers felt stifled, and lost interest, editors said. Alex Gagne-Hawes said the J-Bird was "running scared."

"After that, it got to the point last year where it was like 'you can't write this because someone in, like, China will be offended,' " said Anna Gagne-Hawes, who also edits the J-Bird. The J-Bird's first issue this year may will come out soon, Gagne-Hawes said. Last year, the paper came out every six weeks. The Jive Turkey is more exciting because it can be updated constantly, the editors said.

Without the school administration overseeing their paper, Chalmers and other editors now struggle to develop their own content standards considering questions of libel, accuracy, credibility and taste. They have set forth a number of standards for submissions, requiring work be factual, and discouraging traditional teenage ranting, and the use of certain obscenities. But, on occasion, sophomoric teenage boy humor seems to creep in, with things like references to the president's genitalia. Chalmers says he tries to keep such humor at a minimum.

"We don't want to be a tabloid. We want to report the news and sort of delve deeper," Chalmers said. "The other day we got a humor article, it was sort of scatological and it wasn't very funny. It wasn't up to our standards."

Another tricky issue is anonymity. Where in part it helps students feel more comfortable expressing themselves, writers also don't have to take responsibility for hurtful comments. Editors have to step in when posting gets out of hand. Chalmers said that sometimes he hasn't stepped in soon enough.

"We are still learning and still forming," Chalmers said. "But it is shaping up to be a nice little community."

Julia O'Malley can be reached at jomalley@juneauempire.com.



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