The Spartan Gets Rebooted with Help from a Seasoned Pro
More than 40 years in journalism made adjunct professor Paul Vigna an expert at adapting to change and the perfect fit to lead The Spartan, York College’s student-led newspaper.
When the words you write have a real impact on the community around you, it can be exhilarating. That’s how Karisma Boyd ’24 felt in September when she wrote about the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund for The Spartan, York College of Pennsylvania’s recently revived student-led newspaper.
“We were talking about something that was really important,” she says. Her story started a conversation in the community and helped other students learn about how the CARES Act funding intended to help students with financial aid during the pandemic.
That kind of thought-provoking, engaging content is exactly what adjunct professor Paul Vigna envisioned when he was asked by Dr. Gabriel Cutrufello from the Department of English and Humanities to help launch the reboot of The Spartan last year. This time around, though, The Spartan isn’t just a newspaper—it’s a college-credit course.
Bringing journalism to life
You know you’ve been in journalism a long time when you forget the exact number of publications you’ve worked for. Since his start more than 40 years ago, Vigna has adapted to incredible change in the industry.
Newspapers today look radically different than they did in the eighties when tweeting was strictly for the birds. But, the building blocks—how to pull information out in an interview or craft a strong lead—those basics never change, he says.
Now the breaking, trending news editor/producer for PA Media Group, the company behind PennLive.com and The Patriot-News, Vigna brings his real-life experiences to the classroom. His students benefit. “Having someone who is directly linked to the field I want to go into is just one of those opportunities you want to take advantage of,” Boyd says.
Building better writers
Boyd, a sophomore Mass Communication major, dreams of writing for a major news outlet one day. Most of Vigna’s students, though, probably won’t ever set foot in a newsroom.
The class, which students can take up to three times for credit, is open to all disciplines. This semester, Vigna’s roster is filled with a mix of Professional Writing, Mass Communication, Sport Management, and Sport Media majors.
The skills that make a good journalist—the ability to write consistently, coherently and in a way that engages the audience, all while meeting a deadline—are applicable to any job these students hope to land. “Are they coming out as better writers than when they started? If they are, I think I’ve succeeded,” Vigna says. “I think that’s the number one goal.”
Engaging the community
Only in its second semester, this iteration of The Spartan is still a work in progress. They’re experimenting with online-only publication, social media promotion, and fine-tuning story ideas and publication schedules.
The administration has been behind the reboot 100%. “I think they felt it was too important not to have,” Vigna says.
Recent stories have chronicled the history of Tyler Run Creek, previewed the upcoming sports season and explored an art exhibit downtown. As the class progresses, Vigna is encouraging his students to focus on timely, engaging stories relevant to the community.
“We’re constantly just finding new ways to write better and change our frame of format,” Boyd says. She’s worked on a piece that examined media coverage of the disappearance and death by homicide of Gabby Petito, exploring how missing white women are treated differently than Black women.
Joining The Spartan staff has helped push Boyd outside of her comfort zone; it takes guts to walk up to a stranger and ask them for an interview. “I’m shy, but if there’s something I have to do, I’m going to do it,” she says.
The future of the newsroom
The Spartan staff has only begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible with the relaunched publication. Vigna is working to get a solid editorial calendar going and hopes to eventually have a student position dedicated to social media promotion to boost their reach. He brings in guest speakers, 12 just last semester, to broaden the experience and keep it grounded in the real world.
Whether they become journalists or not, Vigna is happy to be able to pass his knowledge on to the next generation. “I sort of impart life lessons in addition to journalism lessons,” he says. “Of all the different things I've taught through the years, this has been as much fun and close to my heart as anything I’ve done.”