William Brent Allen, 55, always intended to make a career of journalism. He majored in journalism and spent several years working in the profession. But it is his current role as a mentor and advisor to budding journalists at East Mecklenburg High School that is his true calling.
“My love,” he says, “is scholastic journalism.”
After earning a degree in journalism from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1979 (“I’m a Tarheel born and bred,” Allen says), he began his career at the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
He started as a copy editor and was promoted to Assistant Editor for National and International News and also served as the paper’s gossip columnist.
“I wrote about people in the news in a funny way,” Allen recalls. “I made lots of puns.”
After four years, Allen was ready for a change. A big change.
He moved to Ecuador, where he pursued social mission work. He worked with a Christian Mission organization and taught English as a Second Language classes while also counseling street children. He started a family and spent 18 years in South America.
Allen returned to the United States in December 2001 for his daughters’ education. He settled in Charlotte but he couldn’t afford to return to his journalism career because he had been away from it for too long and he would have to start again in an entry-level position.
He turned instead to teaching, starting at Independence High School as a Spanish teacher before moving to East Meck in 2004.
Allen still teaches Spanish, but his true passion in 2006, when he started as the school’s newspaper advisor. The Eagle has been in existence for more than 55 years, but Allen added an online newspaper in 2009 and has added several journalism classes to his teaching roster.
Under his leadership, the paper and several of its student writers and editors have won regional and national recognition and awards. It is a direction Allen intends to pursue even more in coming years and has set his sights on several national competitions.
In addition to his advisory role at East Meck, Allen has also become involved with promoting high school journalism across the state. He serves as the president of the N.C. Scholastic Media Advisors’ Association, which helps set up and run workshops around the state and promotes high school journalism.
Allen encourages his staff of students to attend the summer N.C. Scholastic Media Institute, where they learn the basics of layout, news reporting, online and broadcast journalism, and design.
Allen takes his role seriously.
“My goal,” he says, “is to try to stay out of their way as much as possible.”
It is sometimes difficult not to intercede, but he wants them to struggle through deadlines and getting the paper laid out properly on their own because, he says, “at the end of the day, I want them to know they did it.”
Next year, they will be doing it on their own with a combined staff of 13. There will be an editor in chief of both print (that will be my daughter, Hannah Lieberman, a junior) and one for the online paper, Mario Augostinovic, with two different staffs.
Allen is trying to develop a program, with 23 students signed up for his introductory journalism class. He is hoping all of his students will learn skills “they can use in college and beyond.”