Bolton High School senior Lily Donaldson doesn't give up easily.
After The Teen Appeal — the now-defunct, Scripps-funded citywide student newspaper — lost its funding last year, the international baccalaureate student decided to take matters into her own hands and launch a new citywide teen news website.
The Memphis Teen will give aspiring young journalists an outlet and a place to hone their craft, according to Donaldson.
- Courtesy of Lily Donaldson
- Lily Donaldson (third from left) at the Baldwin Fellows conference
"Right now, we're accepting applications, so we're reaching out to teens in the area. Once we get all the applications in and get our team together, we'll start with the website because it's free. But eventually, I'd like to sell ads to print a monthly newspaper," Donaldson said.
Memphis Teen applications are available at memphisteen.rambletype.com. Those applying must be between the ages of 13 and 19 and attend a school in Shelby County, but it's not limited to public school students. Donaldson said they're seeking not only reporters but students with an interest in graphic design, web coding, photography, and videography.
Donaldson wrote for the monthly The Teen Appeal, a subsidiary of The Commercial Appeal that was funded by the Scripps Howard Foundation, from the second semester of her sophomore year until the first semester of her junior year. But after Gannett purchased The Commercial Appeal from Scripps, The Teen Appeal lost its funding and closed for business, leaving most local teens without a journalism outlet.
Many Shelby County Schools, including Bolton, lack school newspapers or journalism programs. Donaldson experienced first-hand the loss of her school's newspaper. When she started high school there, Bolton had a school paper called The Bolton Paw Print, but that was later transitioned into a monthly news magazine called Scratch Magazine.
"Then our journalism teacher left, and we got a new sponsor. But that didn't work out, so we had to choose between the yearbook and the newspaper programs," Donaldson said. "Obviously, they chose yearbook because it's a high school, and we have to have that."
That's when Donaldson went to work for The Teen Appeal, which ended up suffering a similar fate.
"I was left with no media organization to write for, and I realized that many students around Shelby County probably wouldn't have one either since many of the schools have lost journalism funding," Donaldson said.
This past June, when Donaldson was attending a Baldwin Fellows investigative journalism workshop at the University of South Carolina, she realized that she had to start her own self-sustaining media organization. She announced in a workshop that she'd be doing just that, and she was referred to Chris Muldrew with Rambletype — a marketing business. Muldrew offered to host The Memphis Teen website, and Donaldson said, at that point, she "had no excuse not to do this." She filed for incorporation with the state, and now she's accepting applications.
Donaldson said The Memphis Teen will be censorship-free, so students can feel comfortable writing about issues that happen within their schools without being silenced by the administration.
"We had some interesting things happen at my school [when we still had a news outlet], but we weren't allowed to write about that stuff because they didn't want to draw negative attention to the school," Donaldson said. "I wanted this to be a way where kids can write anything they want, with limitations for appropriateness, obviously. I don't want kids to be afraid to write about things that happen in their schools."
Local journalist Elle Perry, Donaldson's former editor at The Teen Appeal, said she's excited to see a new outlet launching for Memphis teens.
"I'm glad that she's sticking to her idea of a teen newspaper. I hope she gets a lot of people interested," Perry said.
Donaldson said she hopes to go live with content on the website by the end of August.