A love of writing: Student leads efforts for online paper

Conway High School’s Nabiha Khetani’s efforts to create an online newspaper were successful and the Wampus Cat Student News launched her junior year. (Mike Kemp photos)

by Katie Kemp

Nabiha Khetani has been a writer since before she knew what that meant.

“When I was little and didn’t know the alphabet or how to write, I would just scribble on a notebook and pretend I was writing,” she said. It’s no surprise that as she grew up, she developed a knack for putting real words on pages.

When she enrolled in Jamie Bratton’s Journalism I class during her sophomore year at Conway High School, she did so as a prerequisite to joining the yearbook staff. But she quickly identified an opportunity she felt journalism students could benefit from: a school newspaper. As one of the first assignments of the class, Khetani and a classmate outlined their vision for a student-led newspaper.

“One of my friends at Central High School in Little Rock was really involved in newspaper, so that’s kind of what caught my interest,” Khetani said. “ I knew I wanted to do yearbook the following year, but then for newspaper, it wasn’t a thing. I was really questioning as to why it wasn’t, because smaller schools had it, so why didn’t we?”

Rather than get a grade for the assignment and call it a day, Khetani decided to put the plan into action and work toward establishing an online newspaper for Conway High students. It took a year of conversations with administration, but during Khetani’s junior year, Wampus Cat Student News went live online.

On the website, you’ll find campus news, sports coverage, features, profiles and opinion pieces – all written by Conway High students. As students in Jamie Bratton’s Journalism I class learn the basics of news and feature writing, they are given the chance to have their work published through the newspaper.

“The first unit (of the class) is just writing. How to write news stories, how to write feature stories, learning the basics of it,” Khetani said. “So as the year progressed and they got into the class, they became better writers as well.”

Khetani was quick to recruit students outside of the journalism classes, though – she told her friends, hung up posters, posted on social media and encouraged anyone interested in writing to get involved. What you’ll find on the website now is a collection of stories written by all kinds of students with a diverse range of interests, from opinion polls to weather reports to pop culture commentary. The publication was started with a mission to “provide first-hand experience for the staff of potential journalists, but also to exemplify the students of Conway High School.” You don’t have to read far to see how both of these goals were accomplished in one fell swoop.

As more stories were published and more students started to gain interest, both Bratton and Khetani saw potential for the publication to stand out against those from other schools. The Arkansas Scholastic Press Association holds an annual competition for student-led publications in Arkansas, and Bratton and Khetani decided to take a chance and submit the still-new online newspaper for review in the competition. They believed the work the staff had done could succeed, but were nonetheless pleasantly surprised at the results.

Because the site was still in its infancy and its staff was still small, no Conway High students were able to attend the awards ceremony. Khetani learned the results secondhand.

“One of my friends from Central High actually texted me about it. She said, ‘Congratulations on getting online editor of the year!’ And I was like, ‘Wait, what?’”

The news site received an overall “Excellent” rating, and Khetani was honored as Online Editor of the Year. In addition to these overall awards, several students were recognized for their work on the site. Khetani received an excellent rating in news writing and an honorable mention in sports feature; Savannah Eckle received an honorable mention in feature story and an excellent rating in column; Sydney Greathouse received an excellent rating in editorial; Karen Demeyere received an honorable mention in personality profile; Mason Choate received an honorable mention in sports news story; and Hannah Taylor received an honorable mention in photo essay, as well as both superior and “Best of ASPA” ratings in review.

“You always try to tell students, ‘I’ll see what I can do; we can make this happen.’ But I don’t know that the expectation is that a student will really take an idea like this and run with it and see it through to its completion, but she did,” Bratton said. “I’m just really proud of what she was able to do.”

Khetani has built an impressive groundwork for a publication she believes in, and she hopes to pass the baton to someone as passionate as she is after she graduates in May. While she’s cherishing the last bittersweet months as editor of Wampus Cat Student News, there’s no doubt you’ll be seeing her name in bylines in the years to come.