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Painting a Picture of Palette

The History and Development of AJA’s Student Publication

Rewind to 1989: Yeshiva Atlanta (YA) student Francesca Zuckerman (YA ‘91) walks around selling chocolate bars to her peers. She takes the collected money to her friends Jessica Goodman (YA ‘91) and Meira Katz (YA ‘91), who flip through the Yellow Pages trying to find reasonably-priced printing companies. A short while later, the two girls walk through the school handing out the first-ever issue of Palette to the school.  

YA students published newspapers before Goodman and Katz’s time, yet Katz said it “had sort of fizzled away.” The two students decided to try and bring the publication back to life — “I think of it as sort of a rebuilding time period,” said Katz.

To mark the newspaper’s inception, they assigned it a new name, the one AJA continues to use today: Palette. “I think Palette represented different colors and different thoughts. It’s so open — you can give different people palettes and they can do different things,” explained Katz. The name encapsulated their mission for the publication: “It’s really about creativity and building new things… painting and sharing perspectives.” 

At the time, all the high schools on TV shows published newspapers. Feeling like YA lacked the “traditional high school feel,” Goodman and Katz wanted to somehow capture that environment they saw in the schools on TV. Through creating Palette, a platform that provided the space to “communicate students to students,” they believed they could strengthen YA’s feeling of culture and community.

“Goodman and Katz had to think far outside the box to figure out how to print and afford the paper on their own.”

The students produced Palette completely independently. They had complete freedom — no supervision, no censorship. But they also had no money. And there were not exactly many students “clamoring to write.” So Palette began as a “grassroots effort,” according to Katz. Though just a handful of students, they each contributed their part to actualize their vision for the newspaper.

To afford printing the paper, they sold chocolate bars (with the help of Zuckerman) and charged a quarter for each copy of Palette. Furthermore, they gave incentives for students to purchase Palette: The student who happened upon the copy marked with a star marked inside received a prize. Katz remembers the community having an overall “pretty positive” response to the new newspaper and that students looked forward to each issue.

Goodman and Katz had to think far outside the box to figure out how to print and afford the paper on their own. Yet with their strong efforts and creativity, they were able to “take it off the ground” and establish “the pivot for Palette so it could be successful,” said Katz. They managed to transform a newspaper published just once every few years into a publication printed quarterly. Furthermore, and arguably most importantly, they laid the foundation for YA to develop a strong, consistent, and lasting publication.

Palette Transitions To a Digital Publication

Fast forward to 2009: Over the past 20 years, Palette has evolved tremendously. The Palette staff has grown to a considerable size, and continues to expand. Furthermore, by this point, YA administration and faculty have taken a role in producing the publication, remembers then-co-editor Elana Weissmann (YA ‘09). Karen Wright, a  faculty advisor during this period, supervised and assisted the Palette staff throughout the process of producing articles. At the time, Weissmann believed the students faced a “censorship problem,” but says that “in retrospect, it makes sense that there were adults monitoring what high schoolers were publishing.”

Weissmann explains that “the vibe on staff was a combination of lighthearted and serious.” While the students always included articles covering current events in the school, they also wrote “lighter student interest pieces that would make people laugh or get to know their fellow students.” For example, they wrote features such as “carpool corner,” in which they would profile different carpools in the school. “I remember laughing a lot when we put issues together, and I’m glad our work to make Palette a great publication didn’t cause us to take ourselves too seriously,” said Weissmann. 

Wright remembers this duality of lightheartedness and seriousness in Palette. She said that a “cheeky sort of attitude and tone was always kind of in the background… There’s a time for a serious and journalistic and formal article, but it’s still a school newspaper written for teenagers.” But students would also write about topics they were passionate about, such as politics or a certain cause or belief.

Wright explains that she gave the students a lot of freedom to write about their interests. The process ran mostly independent of her: She gave the editors most of the responsibility in producing articles, and she would look over and edit everything once right before publishing. This was deliberate — she intended for Palette to remain student-produced so that the students would feel an ownership over their work. “I really tried to let them be autonomous,” she said.

Slowly, over this time, the printed publication transferred to an online platform instead. Wright explained that “the cost of printing papers [was] pretty prohibitive,” so eventually YA felt that putting Palette’s articles online would be much more cost-effective. Additionally, “the reach of the paper was broadened immensely once we moved online,” noted Wright. Instead of just geared toward the students, the topics expanded and readership began to include board members, parents, alumni, and community members. 

The Rebirth and Identity Crisis of Palette

By 2015, YA students have published Palette issues for decades at this point. In the previous few years, Palette articles remained entirely published on various online websites. Yet this year, Rachel Rosenberg (AJA ‘16) became Palette editor and had a different approach in mind.

While at first the digital version of Palette reached the community outside of YA, gradually the readership diminished to just the students again. As a staff writer, Rosenberg saw that eventually even the students no longer had much interest in the publication as well. “There was no student drive to read it when the internet has unlimited reading material,” she explained. Zoie Wittenberg (AJA ‘17), another staff writer at the time, stated that “Palette died” and “it didn’t seem like anybody missed it.” To try and revive the publication, Rosenberg began printing paper copies of Palette again. 

Once students could unfold the tangible newspaper, she saw that “students began reading the newspaper again and taking pride in the school publication.” Slowly new elements were added to the paper, many of which students continue to enjoy, such as games, puzzles, word searches, horoscopes, word of the month, and eventually the beloved ‘quote unquote.’ In addition, the staff writers each had their own columns with specific topics. Each issue contained a political commentary section and a teacher’s corner (the latter of which continues to this day). 

Shortly after Palette returned to print, YA began its merger with Greenfield Hebrew Academy. During this process, Head of School Rabbi Leubitz encouraged students to try and broaden the publication’s scope. Faculty advisor Mr. Dave Byron remembers that they enjoyed producing content that involved inside-jokes that only YA students would understand. Yet, with this “limited in-house focus,” Mr. Byron says that Rabbi Leubitz felt that it would not appeal to the broader AJA community. Determined to amalgamate the younger grades with the High School, the administration encouraged Palette to help bridge this gap by making the publication relevant for the entire community. 

The year after the merger, Rosenberg graduated, and Wittenberg took on the role of editor. She felt that after the merger, the students had lost their voice, so they “wanted a place to write and sound like [themselves].” She explained, “[The administration] wanted to make our press good press for them, which wasn’t what we weren’t interested in.” Rather, they wanted to talk about “the nitty gritty” and their frustrations with the merger.  

“I wanted the people to be heard,” Wittenberg said. “I was very into making sure that if a student wanted a voice, they got their voice. I edited for grammar, sentence structure, and such, but I wasn’t about changing the content of the article.” However, often the staff wanted to write about topics the school did not want published. Regardless, Wittenberg went ahead and printed articles the administration did not approve, and the school eventually threatened to shut down Palette.

In response, the staff made themselves entirely financially independent of AJA, though sometimes they had to pay out of pocket to print the papers. To widen their distribution, they delivered Palette to the JCC, the Spicy Peach, Kosher Gourmet, The Kehillah, Beth Tefillah, and the Chabad of East Cobb. Above all else, they aimed to remain as independent and autonomous as possible.

Palette is Reborn Again

In 2017, Nicole Dori (AJA ‘18) took over the reigns of editor, and AJA used this transition to insert an advisor’s guidance back into the process of publishing. Rabbi Leubitz assigned Mr. Joel Rojek the role of faculty advisor, hoping a new leader could guide the staff in a slightly different direction. 

Mr. Rojek saw that Palette was only read by some AJA high school students. He urged the staff to try and cover “issues of the community” to broaden their audience. Furthermore, students often wrote “really esoteric articles.” While he acknowledged that this could feel “really liberating and really fun” for the writers, he did not think “there was broad appeal to our readership.” He helped the students “try to think in terms of who’s reading Palette — what do they want to know?” Palette should be “a service to the community,” Mr. Rojek believes.

To achieve this, Mr. Rojek challenged each new editor to create a mission statement for the publication. This created a clear focus and goal for the staff. He wanted the students to consider, “What’s the purpose of the paper?” and “Why do we have Palette?” 

“Shortly after Palette returned to print, YA began its merger with Greenfield Hebrew Academy. During this process, Head of School Rabbi Leubitz encouraged students to try and broaden the publication’s scope.” 

In addition to the readership and content of Palette, the paper’s layout of Palette also transformed at this time. AJA leased a 13-foot-long Xerox C70 printer (whom Network Administrator Mr. Scott Forbus lovingly named Esther), which is a light production copier. Mr. Forbus explained, “The cost to print on this copier is substantially less than what we were paying to print it out of the school. We can also print it ‘on demand’ — meaning with much lower lead times and as needed for additional copies.” Previously, AJA had been producing Palette through sending their files to a company in Alabama, who would then print the copies and ship them back to Atlanta. 

But beyond reducing the cost and time to print Palette, Esther allowed for a major development in its layout. “This printer has high capacity feeding, can do booklet folds, center staple, square folds and end trimming,” said Mr. Forbus. He recommended using these features to print Palette as a colorful magazine booklet, rather than a typical newspaper. After a trial run of this format, Dori permanently remodeled Palette from “white, black, bland” to “really exciting, engaging, colorful.” As a freshman, Dori remembered happily reading Palette, but then discarding the paper afterwards. She wanted to “transform Palette into a more visually pleasing experience so people would be more inclined and interested in reading it, looking at the artwork.” Overall, she said, “I wanted to make Palette an engaging experience rather than a pastime.”

The next year, Medad Lytton (AJA ‘19) became editor, and created some structural changes to the staff. Previously the staff only contained one editor, who was responsible for editing every single article. To spread out this responsibility, Lytton created section editors — students solely responsible for editing one section. The main editor became the Editor-in-Chief (EIC). In addition, he also created a separate layout staff that could further develop the design of the magazine, and began a new website for Palette in addition to the printed publication. 

Before publishing each issue, the administration looked over the articles. However, this was the last step in the process before publishing, and when they gave significant edits, this would greatly disrupt the publishing schedule. “In general, trying to find a way to balance the need for an independent press and hearing the administration’s concerns was difficult,” said Lytton. But he found that “Mr. Rojek was very helpful in navigating all these challenges.”

This remained a struggle the next year, when Eliana Golden (AJA ‘20) and Max Goldstein (AJA ‘20) became Co-EIC. Goldin found it difficult to work with “the censorship by certain members of the administration.” Whether mandating certain inclusions of content in articles, or photoshopping photos in the layout for tzniut, she felt that the administration wanted to use Palette to “paint a picture of what we are not.”

The Co-EICs faced a larger obstacle in March, when COVID-19 shut down in-person school. At that time, they had been planning to print three more issues of Palette, but, realizing the slim likelihood of returning to school, instead they began publishing “smaller weekly newsletters online.” Goldstein said, “I’m incredibly proud of how we adapted, but I wish we could have kept to our intended plan.” However, he also noticed that the entire community especially appreciated Palette during this difficult time: “We noticed a lot of positive feedback from students, parents, and teachers alike.”

Goldin and Goldstein also tweaked the structure of the Palette staff by creating the Editorial Board composed of the individual section editors. To ensure that an EIC could never “run the publication like a dictator,” the Editorial Board ensured that all editors held a voice in making major decisions that affect Palette

They organized a team to begin transferring a digital copy of every article the staff wrote to the website. They also developed Palette’s layout team. Goldstein explained, “Our layout team also was both larger and more experienced than Palette had ever had, and they created some amazing spreads for both the print and online issues.” They began creating complex designs using graphics to further enhance the visual appeal of the magazine.

Today, the layout continues to improve. This past December, the school ended their lease on Esther, but purchased a new, even fancier, printer: a Xerox Versant 180, whom Mr. Forbus named Miriam. She stretches over 15 feet long, and can produce full-bleed documents. Miriam can print faster, and she has high-capacity and strong quality printing. Furthermore, Miriam produces more cost-efficient copies, so copies of Palette are both better and cheaper than ever.

However, Palette is transitioning further to an online form. National publications have been relying more and more on publishing their articles online, and will likely eventually stop printing their writings at all. Mr. Rojek believes that, ideally, Palette should follow this trend. Mr. Rojek believes that Palette is already “heading in that direction as of this year, but not there yet.” This year’s EIC, senior Matthew Minsk, has been working to emphasize the Palette website, publishing all articles online consistently. For the first year, Palette staff posts articles online in a timely fashion, beginning to redirect some of the readership to the website.

Mr. Rojek believes that Palette has had a “really nice momentum going these past few years.” With new editors each year, he feels that each year the issues have their “own kind of stamp,” determined by how that particular staff’s qualities. 

In its 32 years of existence, Palette has endured ups and downs. It has gone through many major changes in the paper’s layout and the staff’s format. Yet throughout all of these fluctuations, one thing has remained consistent: For the past three decades, Palette has provided a voice for students to share their thoughts, creativity, and beliefs.

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