City’s “Pulse” Retaken

Lucy Gellman PhotoMark Ifill-Hanley stared at a page reading NEW FINDINGS SUGGEST ‘GOSPEL OF JESUS’S WIFE’ ISN’T A FORGERY.

“Look at this headline,” Antwon Hawkins said to him. “It almost urges us to read it.” 

Ifill-Hanley, a student at New Haven Academy, was considering the headline not just as a reader, but as an aspiring journalist. He’s been spending Thursday afternoons with other aspiring journalists and with Hawkins, program director at the Coop Center for Creativity.

They were preparing to revive The Pulse, an online newspaper by and for New Haven teens. When the last version of the paper went silent last year, Hawkins resolved to keep students across the New Haven area in conversation with each other.

This year, he and fellow educator Matthew Presser set out to make that happen. They’ve been organizing a new staff to restart the publication. (It hasn’t yet gone live.)

“We want to give the students a chance to learn newspaper skills, and also to share their voices. If teens are reaching out to other teens, it’s more effective than a 50-year-old telling a teen what to do.” Hawkins said of the undertaking. 

Born and raised in New Haven, Hawkins moved away for college, then returned to the Elm City to finish his degree in business at Albertus Magnus College, just two miles from his current office on 195 College St.

Did he think five years ago that this is what he’d be doing? Not exactly. But he was certain of this much: “I wanted to give back to New Haven.” 

Joining other CCC initiatives like “RAP” (rhythm & poetry) and the time capsule-oriented “Blast from the Past,” The Pulse is doing just that. At the paper’s weekly Thursday afternoon meetings, Hawkins works with a group of high schoolers from across the New Haven area to hone journalistic skills, from writing the perfect hook to giving a seamless television interview. Because the 3-4:30 p.m. time slot forces him to compete with extracurricular activities at New Haven Academy, Career High School, Hillhouse and others, he gives students the option of submitting their work virtually as well.

This past Thursday, he worked with Ifill-Hanley on the craft of the news story.

A moment after Jesus’ Wife caught their attention, they moved on to the hotly debated Common Core and were trading interview tips. That’s one big draw of The Pulse: Despite his boyish face, Hawkins is more seasoned than his students, and treats them with unerring mutual respect. 

“Do you know the intentions [of Common Core]?” Hawkins asked when Ifill-Hanley suggested he supports it. “Maybe talk to a teacher or administrator if they’re willing to give a short interview.”

Also raised? Questions and concerns crucial to journalism. Who was the audience? Did students know about the Common Core? Did parents? How did Ifill-Hanley plan to pull them in? What did he know about the common core and what did he still have to learn before running a strong story? 

Hawkins also teaches students how to perform in front of a camera, and it’s harder than it looks.

Sitting at “the most affordable anchor desk you’ll ever have” – an ironing board, covered with a long piece of Styrofoam and a tablecloth to create a desk – he ran Ifill-Hanley through interviews on real-time issues, taping them for practice.

On Thursday’s agenda: a continuation of the Common Core debate, a warm welcome to Mayor Toni Harp and public schools superintendent Garth Harries, and a laid-back segment on summer plans. Oh, and plenty of teachable moments in between.

With The Pulse not yet live – it hopes to go up by the end of this year, after 12 months of skill-sharpening – some might wonder how much students are learning from the experience. According to Ifill-Haney, a lot.

“It makes you nervous, but once you’ve done it you feel thrilled and you want to do it again,” he said. His statement came just moments before Hawkins’ mock-goodbye:

“Stay sexy, New Haven. Err. Stay classy.”

Ifill-Hanley stepped into the role of seasoned journalist. “Yeah. Definitely cut to stay classy.”

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