The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

The student news site of Edwardsville High School

Tiger Times

AJC: A Year in Review

Amanda Thrun
The publications staff poses with their Southern Illinois School Press Association conference awards for the March edition of The Claw.

If, at any point, you’d gotten the chance to speak to me as a junior, there’s a good chance you had heard me say the phrase, “I hate journalism,” more than once.

The comma exercises drained me, the interviews had me in a constant state of anxiety and the never-ending writing assignments left my brain feeling dried-up. On top of everything, my disappointingly-mediocre grades on articles became a hard blow to my ego. 

Now, after two years in one of EHS’s most intense academic programs, I’m beginning to see past my dreadful early days in journalism and finally sum up the good and the bad of Advanced Journalistic Composition with a poor excuse for an objective point of view.

I had known I was going to write this piece since my second week in AJC, when I had finished reading Caspar Dowdy’s “A love letter to student journalism” from the previous edition of The Claw. 

In the days between then and now, I’ve been taking note of the quality of certain aspects of the class – I wanted to know if it was really that special of a program.

What did I really learn? How can I use these skills in the real world if I decide I want to be a writer? Is design really as big of an aspect to the class as Mrs. Thrun claims it is?

I’ll admit – I was unnecessarily meticulous in my negative comments, at times, but even with my harshest criticisms, AJC didn’t let me down. 

Skills Gained

I started AJC with a limited skill set – I was clinging too closely to the strict rules of journalism I had learned in J1, and my first few articles definitely reflected that. 

I never strayed from the one-sentence lead and made sure my personal commentary stayed far away from anything I published.

Hard evidence of this can be found in my editor application I submitted in August, where I wrote, “I find basic reporting to be more enjoyable. It’s more straightforward and typically sounds more professional when I write it.”

Today, I think there’s something to be said about the fact that I am choosing to write in the opinion section for my last Tiger Times article.

Writing opinion isn’t a skill I gained overnight – looking back, my first few columns and reviews were rugged and underdeveloped scraps of the work I could produce today. 

I was so comfortable with the slim margin of error that came with writing objective news, it was incredibly difficult to venture out into the world of what I found to be silly and unprofessional column writing.

But because I was in such a forgiving environment, I could try new things without the harsh consequence of failure.

I was graded as an individual, rather than having my work compared to a classmate or generally good pieces of opinionated journalism. 

That’s not to say that I didn’t put up with a few disappointing grades before getting to where I am, but tough love is often beneficial to my learning style.

Now, I’ve written guides and reviews that have earned me some of my highest scores – all because I was shoved out of my comfort zone and thrown into the deep end of that same “silly” journalism I used to hate.

While building on my subjective writing was definitely a massive feat, further developing my ability to work with a group is something I’ll be thankful for for the rest of my life because I can use that skill anywhere.

I didn’t always enjoy being forced into joint TTO pieces or having to deal with unfinished work in the Life section of the magazine, but because of those difficult and stressful situations, I’ve grown into a person who no longer shuts down upon encountering an issue in a group setting.

And, luckily for me, scrambling to finish people’s spreads won me a few awards. 

General Difficulty

A big reason why only 10 of the almost 2500 students at EHS chose to take AJC this year is because of its rumored extremity and unmanageable demands. And if there was one thing I paid close attention to throughout the year, it was just that.

I started my senior year without AJC in my schedule because past students had warned me of some of its horrors: Mrs. Thrun will never give out a 100%, you’ll be glued to your laptop most nights and the expectations are simply too high for your senior year.

While, I’ll admit, the combination of weekly TTO cycles, constant brainstorming for the next edition of The Claw and 1500-word extended pieces got on top of me, at times, it wasn’t anything but a learning experience.

Because frankly, each time I’d find myself adding finishing touches to four different articles at 1 a.m., I would realize just how useful those times would become later in life when I’d be given a two-day timeframe to write a story rather than my usual week.

And, as the fall semester faded into spring, the number of all-nighters I pulled started to lessen. Over the course of the year, not only did I become a quicker writer in general, but I became skilled in time management and could easily prioritize deadlines as soon as they were given.

Honestly, if there was anything I found difficult about the class, it was finding the energy to complete the rare physical assignment or presentation we were given. I often found that, if it wasn’t writing, I wasn’t interested.

What’s the Point?

Why AJC? At the end of my junior year, I spent most of my days wondering what the class could do for me. More importantly, I spent a while coming up with a way to tell my mom that journalism was not a waste of time and that it would help me in the long run – even if, at that point, I didn’t really believe it.

The truth is, after years in the program, I can say that not even the random design skills I’ve uncovered, the improvement I’ve seen in my writing portfolio or the stack of awards piled on my desk can begin to compare with the experience of it all and the people I shared it with.

I started the class looking for a visible form of self-improvement. I wanted to see a stark contrast between my fall and spring semester pieces, find a topic of writing I truly enjoyed and, of course, be able to write a scholarship essay in less than 20 minutes. 

While I’ve accomplished all of these, the greatest form of improvement I see in myself was not brought on by me, it was brought on by my classmates.

If I had stayed the same silent know-it-all I was in J1, I’d still be stuck writing 300-word news pieces and claiming they were interesting.

But because I was put in a class full of harsh review writers and often loudly-opinionated individuals, I began to feel comfortable enough to let my own self shine through in both my written work and as a person.

Today, I look at my recent pieces with pride because I see myself in them. I can’t help but smile at the fact that I’ve just written an incredibly long opinion article in a few hours without pausing to delete any overly-snarky comments. 

If I’ve grown this much as a person in only a year, I can’t wait to see where this path will continue taking my younger classmates. For as much development as I’ve seen in myself this year, I’ve seen double that in them.

A few of them will move on to exclusive business classes and the rest might spend the summer studying with the New York Times or tutoring rising juniors for their upcoming ACT, but I can say with confidence that, wherever they end up in the next few months, each of them has an incredibly successful year ahead.

Looking back, I wish I would’ve ignored every ominous warning against the class because, without AJC, I would’ve never been introduced to this close-knit community which helped me grow so drastically both personally and as a student. 

After a year in observation, I’d recommend the class to anyone – it really was that special of a program.