Eastern High School students work in class on the Greentown Grapevine on Sept. 12, 2018. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune
Eastern High School students work in class on the Greentown Grapevine on Sept. 12, 2018. Tim Bath | Kokomo Tribune
GREENTOWN – The Greentown Grapevine, which is managed by Eastern Howard School Corporation and is the only community newspaper in the state produced by high school students, is ending publication after 25 years in town.

The monthly paper made the announcement in the June edition, citing rising costs and declining ad revenue and readership for the reason for the closure.

“The Greentown Grapevine staff is saddened to see the local newspaper come to an end,” read the article announcing the closure. “It was an extremely difficult decision to make. We are thankful for the community’s support and concern.”

Greentown resident Rachel Jenkins started the newspaper in 1994. For years, she served as the sole reporter, editor and designer. When she retired in 2013, the paper was set to close until administrators at Eastern High School made the unexpected decision to take it over and publish it through the school.

Since then, students have put out the paper every month, even when school is out for the summer. John Bahler was the first teacher to produce the paper with student reporters. In 2015, English teacher Kate Washburn took on the position as managing editor.

Ryan Gunterman, executive director of the Indiana High School Press Association, said it’s not uncommon for high schools to offer journalism or newspaper classes that put out a school-focused publication.

But what Eastern High School did with the Grapevine was something truly unique. Gunterman said he’s not aware of any other community newspaper in the state that’s written and created exclusively by students and teachers.

“I’m unaware of a situation like that in Indiana and, honestly, anywhere in the nation,” he said in a previous interview. “I’ve been involved in two national associations for 17 years, and this is the first I’ve ever heard of such a thing.”

The paper included a community calendar, obituaries, classifieds, anniversaries, sports coverage and stories ranging from local features to town council meetings.

High School Principal Brad Fugett said the paper had been running at a deficit for years, and the funding to keep the publication open was set to hit zero next month. Class sizes have also grown, which would have required the district to hire another teacher just to run the newspaper, he said.

“We got to the point where the account was going to be out of money,” he said. “But even if the paper were financially solvent, we essentially would need several more periods a day to make this work, and it didn’t make sense to hire another teacher when our main function as a school is to teach kids.”

Fugett said the school corporation is now looking for someone in the community to take over the paper, but, so far, no one has come forward. He said the district would pass on the publication to any interested party, and help re-establish it in the community.

“I feel like we kept it alive for five years after it was set to close, and hopefully someone else in the community can take over now,” Fugett said.

Greentown has a long newspaper history. The first publication, called the Gem, was started in 1894. In 1937, the Gem became the Howard County News, which lasted until 1983. The Grapevine was the next publication to come to town.

Fugett said running and publishing a newspaper has been a great learning experience for the students and staff, and the community will miss having a hyperlocal news source.

“People are sad, but they get it,” he said. “People understand. It’s their paper and they like having it, but they understand it’s a unique burden to have at a school.”
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