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Coal Crackers

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Krista Gromalski ’91 Launches Newspaper Written By Students in Pennsylvania’s Coal Region

By Bill Thomas ’13

Gromalski counsels two student journalists.

Gromalski counsels two student journalists. PHOTO BY CHUCK ZOVKO

Several members of the Coal Cracker staff are gathered around a table, discussing story ideas for the independent newspaper’s next issue. On the agenda is a look at the current state of music programs in area schools, the first installment of a humorous advice column and a historical retrospective focusing on the effects of the infamous Centralia mine fire.

It’s a scene you’d find in any newsroom, except this one is on the second floor of the Mahanoy City Public Library in Schuylkill County, Pa. The reporters range in age from 8 to 14.

“I came upon this idea at a time in my life where I was thinking a lot about where I’m from. This area has great history, but it is changing,” Coal Cracker creator Krista Gromalski ’91 says, referring to Mahanoy City, her hometown and the base of operations for the fledgling newspaper.

“I thought it would be important to focus on those issues and have a conversation about them. You could do that with a bunch of adults, but that’s just the same thing we’ve always done. Here, we’re starting at the ground level with kids. We’re getting them involved in the discussion and showing back to the community what the young people are thinking, exploring this place through their eyes.”

The first issue of Coal Cracker was published in March 2014 and, for now, the paper is on a bimonthly schedule.  It is distributed in bulk through local business and a growing subscription list. The current budget – including grant funding from the New York-based Community Reporting Alliance – allows for a total of six issues, though Gromalski is optimistic that plans to include advertising in future issues will help Coal Cracker continue beyond that.

“I basically spent the last decade of my life trying to make this project happen. There were a lot of people – my family, for instance – who said ‘This is a great idea, but it’s never going to work here,’ ” Gromalski says with a laugh.

“It’s hard to explain a concept without having a concrete example to show people. Thankfully, I also had some loyal supporters who helped me through the process, and now that it’s a real, concrete thing and people can see it, the response has been ‘Oh, we love this.’ New people show up at every meeting.”

Joining the Coal Cracker staff is free and open to any interested young people in and around the Mahanoy City area, with no prior experience required. She recruited the staff via outreach to local schools, the library and through social media. Gromalski mentors her young staff alongside fellow Wilkes alumna Sandra Long ’86, with whom she also founded Heron’s Eye Communications, a publishing, marketing and project management firm.

Krista Gromalski '91 recalls her roots in the coal region with her youth newspaper. PHOTO BY CHUCK ZOVKO

Krista Gromalski ’91 recalls her roots in the coal region with her youth newspaper. PHOTO BY CHUCK ZOVKO

Among Coal Cracker’s staff is 14-year-old Serena Bennett. Though she’s had more experience writing fiction, Bennett’s article about the importance of farming in the local economy, written for Coal Cracker’s first issue, was a double milestone. It was her first published piece of journalistic writing and also the paper’s first front-page story.

“I think I’ve learned more in the three meetings we’ve had here than in two weeks of school,” Bennett says.

Wilkes communication studies Professor Jane Elmes-Crahall, who taught and advised Gromalski when she was at Wilkes, recalls Gromalski reacting with similar excitement to the numerous political debates hosted on campus at the time.

“Watching people share opposing viewpoints, she loved that. Advocacy made sense to her. Where a lot of students could be apathetic, she wasn’t,” Elmes-Crahall says. “I think (the Coal Cracker) is Krista recalling what it is to be a kid with an opinion, who is otherwise not encouraged to be heard.”

Gromalski hopes this project will provide her young staff with the same skills and inspiration she received during her time at Wilkes.

“I went to Wilkes to study journalism, and studying PR communications under Jane Elmes-Crahall, I learned more about the strategic angle of messaging, communication with a purpose,” Gromalski says. “I learned that your writing can have an impact on others. It can affect their perspectives, and it can cause them to take action.”

Bio:

Krista Gromalski ’91

Bachelor of Arts, communication studies, Wilkes

Master of Arts, sustainable business and communities, with a concentration in youth-led engagement journalism, Goddard College

Career: Co-founded Heron’s Eye Communications in 2006 with fellow Wilkes alumna Sandra Long ’86.

Notable: Founder of Coal Cracker, a youth-led newspaper reporting on the culture and issues of the coal region in Schuylkill County, Pa.

Favorite Wilkes memory: Rowing practice as part of the Crew Team at 5 a.m., during which she was able to take in the scenery of the Susquehanna River and Falls, Pa., gaining a new perspective on the city of Wilkes-Barre from the river banks near Market Street Bridge.

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