Behind the Headlines

Ten years ago, Pete Barrett ’11 published a reflection titled “Renaissance Again: Hackley’s Dial” in the 50th anniversary edition of the Hackley Review. Barrett’s piece covered his experience with the Dial, his opinion on its growth, and its progress over the previous 85 years. Looking back at this article, it is clear that not much has changed.

Yes, the “14 Macintosh Desktops” of Barrett’s era have morphed into eight 21-inch, flatscreen iMacs, each equipped with all the tools a Dial writer could need, but other than the technology, the anecdotes and quirks Barrett detailed are undoubtedly the same. Any writer, freshman or senior, recognizes the dread of reading an already-published article that contains an error, which Barrett outlines in great detail. In 1966, White-Out was readily available to fix errors before print, while today we just press the delete button on our keyboards. 

Although seemingly not long enough ago to provoke a significant change in the Dial and its culture at Hackley, as Barrett highlighted, the Dial has seen a shift. Today, increased emphasis is placed on the online Dial and its timely articles, while the print edition engages student readers across campus once a trimester with select stories printed on glossy magazine paper. This shift is seen in the culture within the Dial, with students tending to lean either toward skills in print or online journalism. The Dial’s online presence has grown over the last 10 years with the improvement of technology and graphic design platforms, new software, and the ability for faster publishing. Still, the Dial’s print and digital platforms complement one another and together create the ability to reach a maximum audience. The Dial online has not put Dial print out of business; both are popular and powerful, and both allow writers and editors to get stories to readers however they best enjoy catching up on news. 

Advisors Michael Bass and Anne Budlong are crucial to the success of the Dial and are devoted to it being the best it can be. Bass served as an advisor on the school newspaper at another school before joining Hackley and the Dial in 2013. At the time, the Dial did not have a magazine (those were implemented during the 2019-2020 school year)—it was a tabloid published once a month with a great deal of work needed to lay out the newspaper. 
There weren’t spreads (pairs of left- and right-facing pages in publications) like there are now, which is why there is a lot more work on spreads currently being taught. The website was also relatively new. In fact, there were two different groups working on each component: one focused on print and the other focused on the Dial online. 

In 2015, advisor Anne Budlong — who joined the Dial more than a decade ago — along with the then Editors-in-Chief, attended a Columbia Scholastic Press Association Summer Journalism Workshop where they learned more about online journalism. They then incorporated takeaways from the workshop into the operations of the Dial, eventually procuring a domain name and moving to a new website host. The Dial started using SNO (School Newspapers Online) products to host the new website and for easy updates, web-based software SnoFlow to track the development of staff stories, and newsletters to push out content to readers. 

To officially become a staff member of the Dial, which is “a pillar of Hackley,” according to Bass, there are two prerequisite courses: Electronic Publishing I and II, where students develop their writing skills and learn about digital publishing. Due to the complexity of course selection as students move through the Upper School, there are only five seniors for the 2022-2023 school year. 

The group is very capable and passionate about the course. The vision for the Dial is to have an atmosphere of a newsroom with many voices to create the best publications possible. The current group of staff writers from the Class of 2025 has thus been a great addition to the team. With the joint work of the senior Editors-in-Chief, junior editors, and sophomore staff writers, a high-quality product is being produced in print and online this school year.

Great successes of the Dial in recent years include the coverage of the protest after the 2018 Parkland school massacre, with many kids gathering on Akin Common. The article, “Hackley School Students Host a Walkout in Conjunction With Schools Nationwide,” was published relatively quickly and was a shining moment for Hackley and its students. Bass was proud that the Dial was able to push the news out to parents and alumni, who otherwise may not have known that Hackley students were such a big part of that activism and event. Another example of students highlighting important and timely topics on the Hilltop is a piece titled “Administrators and Students Wrestle With Recent Juul Trend in the Upper School.” It was an impactful article that the writers used to educate the Hackley community about the risks of vaping, a danger to high schoolers across the country. The article was so well done that health teachers in the Middle School used it in health education classrooms.

The impact of the Dial is felt across divisions. Approximately one or two years ago, Lower School Psychologist Dr. Amanda LeTard brought a Lower School student to Bass’s office for a conversation about journalism because the young student was obsessed with the Dial. Bass thought it was very unusual that a Lower School student knew what the Dial was, which is an indication that Dial staff are leaders of the School, and that permeates into other places on the Hilltop. It is an important reminder of the impact the publications have on the community. The community has been moved by many Dial editorials throughout recent years, including such articles as “Why Does the Upper School Only Have One Black Teacher,” “A Hate Symbol Promotes Conversation at Hackley, But Action Must Follow,” “Hackley’s Sex Ed Program Must Be Improved,” and “Let’s Talk About Dress Reforming Hackley’s Dress Policy,” all of which are available on the Dial’s website 

Much like the connection between the Dial and the community, connections are nurtured within the Dial classroom, where mentorship between editors and staff writers plays a significant role and is highly encouraged. There are meetings once a cycle for this very purpose, to make sure articles are continuing to make progress and are of the highest quality. A successful mentorship story is that of the unofficial graphic design team. 

Former design editor Max Calman ’22 was very experienced in creating spreads and graphics for the magazine during his time on the Dial and worked closely with his then assistant, current senior and Editor-in-Chief Emily Koch. About her experience with her mentor, Emily shared, “Max taught me everything that I know while also allowing me to figure things out for myself so I could learn to troubleshoot and have independence. He taught me the basics for making spreads but wasn’t overly hands on, which allowed me to build my own skills.” This year, Emily, who specializes in high-quality spreads, has become a mentor to two proteges: sophomores Alessia and Giulia Sorvillo. 

Alessia says, “Emily is a great leader, and she has helped me learn in so many ways, like creating a magazine in a timely and efficient manner with great content.” In fact, when Emily was out sick and with a deadline-to-print quickly approaching, Giulia stepped up to the plate and ran around the whole class period fixing everyone’s problems, showing how well she had been mentored by Emily. It was inspiring to see someone who just a few months prior was completely new to the Dial have a real impact on everyone. Emily noted, “I try to do the same thing for Giulia and Alessia [that Max did for me]. I taught them the bare bones, and they are using what I taught them to come up with their own ideas and techniques.” It is remarkable to see the line of experience being passed down and evolving from one generation to the next. 

Practicing good journalism based on facts, good research, interviewing the right people, and writing in a journalistic style will continue to drive this journalism course and the articles its students produce. There will also continue to be a passion for growth and evolution. The Dial has elevated the online publication and strives to find ways to further enhance its content and capabilities, while also embracing the traditions and reach of the print publication. Part of the culture of the Dial is allowing staff writers to forge their own paths when thinking about what aspect of journalism they are most interested in, whether print or digital. “Hackley is a traditional school, and we honor our traditions,” said Budlong when asked about the Dial’s print editions. 

Meeting readers where they are is an important part of the growth of the Dial. These 10 years have taught us that whether readers click to open the Dial online or pick up a printed magazine, the most important point is that news is shared and read. The print edition, for example, engages many students, most of whom will only ever keep up with student news through the magazine. As a result, Dial staff and advisors anxiously await the delivery of the magazines, and Dial staff ensure that copies are easily available and scattered all around the School across division offices, student lounges, common areas, libraries, and more.

When asked how they most prefer to read Dial stories, students expressed interest in both print and digital editions. Avery Leighton ’23 said, “I don’t visit the Dial website unless I see an article in the newsletter about one of my friends or something cool, but I read [the print version] when someone hands it to me, which happens a lot when they first come out.” Remy Becker ’25 is a reader of the Dial both online and in print. He emphasized that he is more likely to read the print copy as it is very accessible and widely distributed when first released; however, he shared that he has “definitely visited the Dial website to read about sports or articles about my friends.” 

The Dial, like its tagline says, is the voice of the student body. At an independent school like Hackley, it is important to keep the student publication alive and to ensure students feel heard. The online website has many visitors, gaining traction when monthly newsletters are released. And the pride of the Dial, a staple of the course, is the print publication. The skills of writing, editing, and designing spreads is what the course is about, but members also learn to be leaders and mentors. And most of all, we all learn to be flexible. The Dial classroom is an opportunity for the entire staff to work together, step out of our comfort zones, and learn new skills. And the Dial publication, whether in print or online, is a product we can all be proud of. 

This story first appeared in the
Hackley Review Summer 2023 edition. To see the full digital issue,
click here.