Students criticize lack of positive coverage in local newspaper

Students, teachers, and others from the East side community recently took to social media to criticize the Athens Banner-Herald’s coverage of Cedar Shoals.

Complaints began on August 18 after the Jaguars defeated Madison County 23-3. Fans then saw no print or online coverage of the game.

“We have seventeen teams that we cover in our area so it’s not just Clarke Central and it’s not just Cedar Shoals. I’ve been trying to be impartial to all the teams and try to do the same amount of what we call advanced stories, which is kind of a game preview,” said Ryne Dennis, ABH Sports editor.

After complaints from readers on the Athens Banner-Herald Instagram page, the ABH responded by posting a positive message about the next Cedar Shoals football game which they decided to cover.

“Check out some photos from today’s practice where the @cedarshoalshighschool football team was hard at work gearing up for their home opener this Friday night with the Winder-Barrow Bulldogs,” read the post. The Jaguars lost the game 14-7.

Jag fans appreciated these efforts from the Banner-Herald, but community members still feel as if Cedar Shoals is not recognized as much as other schools.

“I’ve been here for four years and was in the marching band in eighth grade, and I’ve seen that nobody here ever gets recognized for some of the great things that happened here,” said senior Catherine Hennessey. “Whenever I’m around town and I’m talking to someone new they’re like ‘where do you go to school?’ They either don’t know about Cedar Shoals or they think everybody here are thugs.”

Hennessey took matters into her own hands, literally, by posting an Instagram story with examples of what she believes to be unfair coverage. Additionally, Flagpole published a short letter “Cedar Shoals High School Gets a Bad Rap” by Hennessey where she makes her case for more favorable coverage.

Hennessey believes that unfortunate headlines and rumors surrounding Cedar Shoals may be one of the reasons for the poor perception of Cedar and its students. She mentions the alleged rape incident from three years ago where three male students were eventually acquitted on rape charges, but all three later plead guilty to molestation charges after an on-campus sexual encounter was reported, captured on camera, and used as evidence in court.

“After my freshman year when there was the rape and then after all these incidents nobody sees what actually happens at Cedar Shoals,” said Hennessey.

Not all students agree with Hennessy fully, however.

“I know that Banner-Herald has nine people on their staff, and I just saw like a hundred comments about people freaking out about that. I was just thinking I don’t know how nine people are going to handle like a hundred people coming at them all angry. I was confused on why they were getting so mad,” said Pace Barkdoll, a BluePrints Magazine journalism student.

English teacher Mrs. Katie Johnson supported students who raised criticism toward the Athens Banner-Herald.

“I love when students are being active and using their voice in any way. (They) kind of motivated me to highlight what they were already doing,” said Johnson. “I went to the Madison County game and I saw all the enthusiasm of the students. When I realized that the Athens Banner-Herald didn’t even mention that game it was shocking for me as well.”

Johnson doesn’t think that the ABH’s coverage is “malicious.”

“We have to be active and loud so that they’re forced to recognize that we exist,” she said.

Despite the criticism, Dennis defended the coverage toward Cedar Shoals this Fall as fairly distributed amongst all the schools that the ABH covers.

“Coverage wise we’ve been trying to keep it equal amongst teams, which I feel like I’ve done a good job of because we’ve covered the same amount of Clarke Central games as we’ve covered Cedar Shoals games and had the same amount of pictures,” said Dennis.

For example, the ABH did in fact cover the Jaguar 14-0 victory over Oconee County the week after the Madison game.

“We covered Cedar Shoals and Oconee because it was two of our areas teams, and it was really the biggest game in the area for the week. I know Oconee’s had a good team for several years, and I know Cedar Shoals is having a good year and Coach Ryals is turning everything back in the right direction. That was the game of the week so I felt like we needed to cover it,” said Dennis.