If you want to know who's had a baby, who's building a new house or how the seniors' knitting-for-charity project is coming along in Camas County, you read the school newspaper.
It's the county's only news medium. For most of the year students are the only chroniclers of births, deaths, meetings and social events in the county's 1,077 square miles.Every Thursday, the Camas County High School Snowshoe lists the specials down at the Market Basket. It recounts the games of the Camas County Mushers and, with luck, finds fodder for a cover feature story - all in a chatty, homey style.
Eighteen of the high school's 57 students work on the paper. There is no formal journalism class. Instead, typing is done during business class, paste-up during study hall, and reporting on weekends and in free periods.
"I thought we were going to go crazy today, but it didn't go too badly," said adviser Margaret Brackenbury after meeting a Tuesday printing deadline.
Deadlines are taken seriously here. The paper has 400 subscribers who expect a weekly paper and another 100 who buy it in local businesses.
A big difference between the paper and other Magic Valley weeklies is that while they have full-time staffs, Brackenbury has one of the school day's eight periods to put out the paper - with help of whatever student staff members are around.
On Tuesdays, the paper pays Shari Simon to spend six hours pasting the advertisements, stories and pictures into an eight-page paper.
The students sell ads, compile club news and meeting announcements turned in by the community, write news copy, shoot and print pictures and finally fold the papers and stick on mailing labels.
"I've learned a lot about life in Camas," said junior James Rice, who covers community events. And he's done things that other students haven't had a chance to do. In November, he spent a Saturday touring the Princess Mine north of Fairfield.
The most difficult task is keeping the paper fresh, he and Brackenbury say.
"It's real hard in this little community to find new things to write about," Brackenbury said. "Sometimes we have a hard time coming up with something for the front page.
"We can't do obituaries or Camas Chatter or the senior citizens," she mused as deadline approached on one recent Tuesday. "Basketball isn't news until we win. Soldier Mountain had opened for the season, but nobody took any photos."
She finally led the paper with a story about grade-school students raising venus flytraps, winners of the American Cancer Society free-throw contest and an account of a snowstorm closing the school after a two-year drought.
Inside, readers could learn the covered dish assignments for the Fire Department dinner, read a story by grade-school student Will Varin, check the times of cholesterol screenings and skim an estate notice.
In the past couple of years, the paper has gained new status as the county's legal newspaper. Rates, set by the state, have been a financial boost for the non-profit paper.
Advertising manager Tina Reed said regular ads sell for $2 a column inch. Legal ads bring in 35 cents a line.
To remain a legal newspaper, the Snowshoe must have 200 paid subscriptions within the state.
"Please understand that the Snowshoe is not greedy - we simply MUST maintain 200 subscriptions within the county to qualify as a legal publication," said a subscription renewal notice in the July 12 paper. "Begging and wheedling the state on behalf of our tiny population falls on deaf ears, so we have no recourse but to wheedle and beg the populace."
Fairfield had a population of 404 in the 1980 census; a 1986 estimate set it at 389. Camas County showed 800 residents in 1980 but only 700 in the 1986 estimate.
A year's subscription costs $8.25. During the summer, community members put together the paper.
Year-round, it's informal. People are on a first-name basis in the community, and that's reflected in the paper.
Bylines often include only first names - Photos by Clint and Jasper - and a baby born near deadline is announced to the community: "Angie has a girl! Born Tuesday. More later . . ."
Brackenbury cheerfully admits she knows little about journalism. When stories are turned in that don't satisfy her, she and the student writer turn to one of the state's dailies to see what information is in a similar story.
What Brackenbury does know is how to teach and what the community wants to read about. She juggles what the students want and what the community wants.
"This is a school paper too, so we need some room for kind of silly stuff like song dedications," she said. For older readers, the Camas Chatter column, listing the comings and goings of county residents, is popular.
"The most important thing is to have a newspaper for the community," Brackenbury said.
It would seem that in a county with only 700 people, readers would already know what's new by word of mouth.
That's not so, say readers.
"I never know what's going on," said Carl Ashmead. "I think they do an outstanding job, considering they are high school students."
"The paper is really useful. Otherwise we wouldn't have much of a way to communicate with each other," said Gene Sullivan. "I usually read it from cover to cover," said Steve Sullivan. "It takes about five minutes."