When Taylor Kilgore joined the Simpson Street Free Press as an eighth grader, she did not see herself as a writer. Nine years later, as she prepares to graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, she continues to give back to the organization that helped cultivate her voice.
In addition to her studies at UW-Madison, Kilgore works as the assistant editor of the Simpson Street Free Press. The program started as a local newspaper serving the citizens of its namesake neighborhood in south Madison. Twenty-five years later, SSFP has expanded to six publications and helped thousands of students all over Dane County develop critical thinking and writing skills through journalism. Kilgore believes in the importance of inspiring academic confidence in young people.
In February, WKOW will present Kilgore with the Jefferson Award, which recognizes individuals for their commitment to community service.
How did you get involved with the Simpson Street Free Press?
I heard about SSFP from (assistant principal at the time) Jim Pliner at Sennett Middle School. I thought it would be pretty interesting, but I wasn’t super into it when I heard it was just students writing articles. I thought it was cool, but I wasn’t necessarily a writer yet, or interested in doing that. I was interested in going to the mall or hanging out with my friends. My mom found out about it and said, "No, you are going to do it. You need to write." So she told me that I needed to go and I decided to go. I’ve been there ever since.
How long have you been involved with SSFP?
I started in eighth grade and I’ve been with the program ever since. I am a senior at UW-Madison in the school of journalism. I started as a staff writer. Then, I had a leadership position as a teen editor. I worked alongside some of the college-aged editors at the time. Then I was a senior teen editor by the time I was a senior in high school. It was even more responsibility. Once I was in college, I continued as an adult editor on staff. Now, I help manage a group of teen editors, all who are in high school and are young emerging leaders.
What motivated you to continue your involvement with SSFP over the years?
What I like about SSFP is that you can see the difference that our work makes. I see it in the young people I work with and the growth within myself as I've gone through the ranks. We believe you can’t manage what you can’t measure, so we constantly watch student progress. We measure school grades and school-day attendance. We can look at reading comprehension or number of writing assignments completed. We have specific ways to see and measure the results of our work and student progress.
I also think we as a staff benefit from a very well-established curriculum and structure. This structure gives all of us confidence. We know what we’re doing because we did it ourselves when we were growing up. We run SSFP like a newsroom or other small business. Our current students buy into the whole newsroom process, just like I did when I was younger. Working in a newsroom is a good way to teach confidence and curiosity. It’s rigorous academics, but also fun and interesting. I never thought I’d know so much about space science and exotic big cat species.
Do you plan to continue your career in journalism after graduation?
I do. Right now I am taking the strategic communications track. It’s more public relations and advertising. I’ve also done a lot of work in the j-school on the reporting track as well. I love writing, I love interacting with people in many different ways. I feel that journalism can take me so many different places, whether it is reporting or public relations.
Where do you see the field of journalism going considering recent attacks on the profession?
I feel that what is really important is that “watchdog” role that journalists can have. We have been lacking a little bit in that role in Madison, excluding, for example, the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. I think that it is really important to keep being that watchdog and report what the community and what the people need to hear and what is important to them.
Who do you look up to in the media industry?
I don’t have that many people that I look up to. The first person that comes to mind is Velena Jones on Channel 3. I’ve seen her speak at various events that SSFP has gone to and she came out to our newsroom. I think the way that she presents herself in the news is something I would want to do if I were to have a job like hers.
What do you hope that SSFP can accomplish going forward for alumni and current students?
Continuing to have the pipeline that makes it easier for young leaders to grow up in the program. Like myself, there are many others who have gone through the program. I hope SSFP continues to foster young leaders who eventually will grow up to take those AP and honors English classes and be that leader for someone else. I think that is a huge part.
Also, getting as many students as possible off of our waiting lists. We have waiting lists at each location. We just want to serve as many students as possible so they have opportunities after school and outside of a school setting to continue working on their writing and building academic confidence.