In 1914, William Dimorier, a high school teacher from Erie, PA, received national recognition for a project he had initiated at Erie High called “Newspaper Week.” While Dimorier was not the originator of such a concept, his project was the seed for Erie’s long-running NIE (Newspapers in Education) program. The Monroe News-Star, in Monroe, Louisiana, ran the following story on William’s project in 1914.
Erie, Pa., May 21. The idea of a “newspaper week,” proposed by Prof. Fred Newton Scott of the University of Michigan at a convention of teachers of English last November, has been carried out with success by Professor Dimorier in his English classes in the Erie High School. The object of “Newspaper week” was to make a kind of laboratory study of the newspaper, its history, essential features, purpose, influence and ideals, combined with practical work by the students in reporting and review writing.
Besides talks to the school by newspaper men, addresses were made in class by students. Among the topics dealt with were the following: ‘The History of Printing,’ ‘History of a Newspaper,’ ‘What is News?’ ‘Associated Press,’ ‘The Mission of a Newspaper’ and ‘The Career of a Number of Prominent Journalists.’ Five copies of each day’s issue of 10 of the best newspapers were ordered for the week, and a room was fitted up as a reading room. Through the whole week the purpose was to give the students as clear an idea as possible of what a good newspaper should be. Each student was required to write a news article, review a newspaper and review an article.
Professor Dimorier in summing up the results of this experiment, for the details of which he had no precedent, says: ‘I have never attempted anything that aroused so much enthusiasm or that was more enjoyed by the students. I shall repeat it next fall and am gathering material already. We are planning also to have a week with periodicals.”[i]
Newspaper Week Resembles NIE
William’s project resembles the contemporary Newspaper in Education (NIE) programs, in which K-12 students study newspapers and publishing, much like William’s students did. In the early 20th century, however, the idea was novel, and although William is not the person with whom the idea originated, he was certainly one of its pioneers. In fact, even the University of Michigan professor mentioned in the Monroe News-Star, was not the first to come up with the idea.
Five years earlier before the Star article, in December 1909, the Afton Enterprise, from William’s New York State hometown, reported that a course had been established in New York high schools, designed to teach students how to read newspapers, and that this was modeled after a program in Chicago. An educator stated, “The boys would open at the sporting page and then read only headlines forward and back. The girls never read the papers at all. They never knew the most common events of daily happenings. Now one of our exercises is for the classes to decide each day what was the most important piece of news in the paper.”[ii]
PA State Education Association Learns of Newspapers in Classroom
In December of 1915, a Miss Turner, of Altoona, PA, read William’s essay about newspaper week to the assembly in the English section of the Round Table Conference at the Pennsylvania State Education Association meeting in Scranton, PA. The proceedings stated that Miss Turner read the essay in William’s absence, but William was in Afton around that time, and Scranton is only about 75 miles from there.
William’s “Newspaper Week” essay, while full of serious content, contained a fair amount of wit and humor. It recounted the students’ solicitations for newspapers from a variety of publishers, including in a few in different languages. He referred to “fifty-seven varieties,” a nod to Heinz 57 branding, and, “Before the week was over there were about as many varieties of papers as there were kinds of rodents in Browning’s famous poem,” a reference to Robert Browning’s “Pied Piper of Hamelin.”
The paper recounted the students’ tour of a “modern” pressroom to observe the printing process. “The almost human machines which worked with such lightning-like speed and with such accuracy were a revelation to some who no doubt thought, if they ever thought, that papers just appeared on the front porches of their homes.”
Students Give Testimonials on Newspapers in the Classroom
“Newspaper Week” quoted several student participants, including one, by that time attending Yale, who stated, “To my mind it was completely successful, and that is especially remarkable in view of the fact that it was the first time anything of its kind had ever been tried.” The student identified the most-important lesson learned as, “how to discriminate between the good and the bad papers, between the true and the false, between the constructive and destructive.” Obviously, this skill was not only relevant in the early 20th century, but continues to be an invaluable one with so much news coming from so many different places in so many different forms today.
Another student, attending the University of Pennsylvania wrote, “I was brought to see, for the first time, how the politics of a partizan [sic] paper are likely to distort its views. . . . I came to understand how a newspaper in the hands of a particular power could influence many minds for good or evil.”
William concluded his essay with the following evaluation of the week’s activities:
It is good as far as it goes; however, it is a kind of intellectual spasm. I believe that students should be given, during the entire high school course, systematic training in the reading of good newspapers and in the writing of news articles. Probably two or three lessons a month would be sufficient. In my judgment the main results to be sought are the ability to discern good news from bad news, and the habit of reading regularly one or more of the best newspapers.[iii]
Newspaper Week Essay in English Journal
In March 1917, William’s article “Newspaper Week,” which recounted the week during which, his classes studied real-world newspapers, was published in the English Journal.[iv] It is nearly identical to the version read to the attendees at the 1915 Pennsylvania State Educators Meeting, except for an introductory paragraph. It’s possible that this paragraph was there all along and just didn’t make it into the 1915 book of proceedings. The newer version credits Fred N. Scott, with planting the seed for the project. Scott was the Michigan professor mentioned in the May 1914 Louisiana newspaper article about William’s newspaper-week project.
In the opening paragraph of “Newspaper Week,” included in the English Journal, William stated that planning the project without a previous model to follow was like, “giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” He said he had no “poets eye” nor the imagination of Professor Scott, but rather “determined frenzy rolling.” Using quotes, such as these from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, William wrote that he couldn’t have cast his eyes toward heaven for guidance, because heaven has no use for the subjects that newspapers deal with.
William wrote that he had wracked his own brain, and those of his friends, and interrogated local newspapermen to develop a curriculum that would help students discern between credible and incredible news sources. As for “yellow sheets,” the scandalous, trashy newspapers of the time, he stated there was a place in hell for them, but that the “climatic conditions make the use of paper impossible.”
Educator Cites Newspaper Week Program in 1920 Book
William’s “Newspaper Week” journal article was cited in a Washington, DC, educator’s book about English instruction. William’s paper, which had appeared in a 1917 issue of The English Journal, was cited in a 1920 book entitled English Problem in the Solving: for the Junior and Senior High Schools. The book was written by Sarah Emma Simons, M.A., head of the department of English for high schools in the District of Columbia. In the “Some Special Problems” section of her book, Simons discussed the use of periodicals in the classroom and listed among her items “for further thought,” a discussion of “the use of the newspaper in the English class.”[v]
Although William Dimorier was not the first to suggest newspaper week, nor was he the first to run such a project, he was the first person to bring this type of curriculum to Erie, PA, and newspapers are still studied in classrooms there today.
[i] “Newspaper Study in Schools.” Monroe News-Star, May 22, 1914, 1.
[ii] “Newspaper as School Book.” Afton Enterprise, December 23, 1909, 1.
[iii] “Newspaper Week,” Journal of Proceedings, Pennsylvania State Education Association, 302-304 http://books.google.com/books?id=LAI3AQAAMAAJ&pg=PA302&lpg=PA302&dq=%22W.E.+Dimorier%22+poetry&source=bl&ots=whCUG2YkHH&sig=9xFwAmtzZH3-Hz0WTwMvwdwvTWs&hl=en&sa=X&ei=uBONUo77ELGr4AP6mYCwAg&ved=0CC0Q6AEwATgK#v=onepage&q=%22W.E.%20Dimorier%22%20poetry&f=false, accessed 11/20/2013.
[iv] W.E. Dimorier, “Newspaper Week,” English Journal 6 (1917) 170-174.
[v] Simons, Sarah Emma, English Problems in the Solving, for the Junior and Senior High Schools, Chicago: Scott, Foresman, 1920, 173.