Betty Debnam, Creator of the Mini Page

Apr 23, 2014

Betty Debnam Hunt, Patrick Vernon, Dave Jones Award recipient, and Michele Terry, NIE and Marketing Manager for the (Burlington) Times-News, in Vernon¹s classroom at Western Middle School.

Betty Debnam Hunt, Patrick Vernon, Dave Jones Award recipient, and Michele Terry, NIE and Marketing Manager for the (Burlington) Times-News, in Vernon¹s classroom at Western Middle School.

MINI PAGE ARCHIVE

Betty Debnam launched the Mini Page in 1969 and created a four-page tab section each week until she sold the feature to Universal Press Syndicate in 2007. The Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill has digitized all of the 1969-2007 issues. To find Debnam’s archived editions of the Mini Page, visit http://www2.lib.unc.edu/dc/minipage/

Debnam taught first and second grades in Raleigh before publishing the first edition of the Mini Page in The News & Observer. Stories in the Mini Page featured main characters, such as Alpha Betty and Rookie Cookie who continue to point readers to specific content. The early editions included ads with characters she drew for the advertisers. For example, Frankie and Frances Furter sold hotdogs, and a piano company sponsored Mickey and Minnie Music. The ads were educational and taught about the companies and as well as sold the products. The earliest editions of the Mini Page in the archive will include those ads.

The number of subscribing newspapers rose to 500 across the country, including the Washington Post. After she married Richard Hunt, she moved from Raleigh to Washington, D.C., where she was close to some of the country’s best news sources.

To prepare Mini Page each week, Debnam conducted research on a specific nonfiction topic for a main story. With the help of a small staff, she added puzzles, illustrations and photos to supplement the main story. Some of her favorite topics include a monthly series on the Constitution, supported by Chief Justice Warren Burger, and series on The Bill of Rights, the states, parts of the body, phonics (Fun with Reading by B. Literate) and Picturing the Century. “Themes” on the archive’s website directs users to those series and to editions on other topics, including Animals and Insects, Black History, Environment and Recycling, Plants & Soil and Presidential Elections. Debnam also collaborates with LEARN NC, a teaching and learning program of the UNC-School of Education.

Betty Debnam had clear priorities when starting the Mini Page:

  • To capture the interest of learners and introduce words that build their background knowledge.
  • To introduce subjects that learners need to know to solve real-world problems and become inquisitive citizens.
  • To provide accurate information obtained from outstanding sources, presented in clear, simple language, instead of lengthy teaching guides.

Hear an interview with Debnam in which she describes her work, produced by WRAL for a recent segment of Tar Heel Traveler, titled “Raleigh woman creates kids newspaper section in 1969”:  http://www.wral.com/lifestyles/travel/video/12834169/

The segment explains Debnam’s roots in journalism. Her grandmother published a newspaper in Greene County, and her father worked in broadcast as a news commentator. Debnam has received several awards, including induction into the NC School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Award. Last year, she was inducted into the Raleigh Hall of Fame.


DAVE JONES AWARD

Debnam sponsors the North Carolina Press Foundation’s Dave Jones Award for the Advancement of Youth Readership, which recognizes Jones, an N & O executive who supported education efforts throughout his career, and a NC teacher who integrates local and state news into classroom instruction. Scroll down on the homepage for NCPF to find out more about the Dave Jones award: http://ncpressfoundation.org. Patrick Vernon, a teacher in Alamance County, received the Dave Jones award for 2014. His work is featured on the NCPF website.

The deadline for the Dave Jones Award application is June 1. Teachers should be encouraged to apply and/or nominated by their newspapers or fellow educators who are familiar with their work.


MORE EDITIONS of the MINI PAGE

Over 20 NC newspapers continue to print the Mini Page, now produced by Universal Press Syndicate. The syndicate announces topics in advance so all readers know what to expect. Newspapers often offer schools print editions on the days they publish the Mini Page. E-editions archive current editions of the Mini Page just as they archive other content that appears in the print edition.

Cynthia McFadden, a retired teacher, writes tests that support the use of current editions of the Mini Page to develop literacy skills. NCPF makes the tests available here: http://ncpressfoundation.org/how-news-connects/.

From its launch, the Mini Page attracted young readers, their teachers and their parents (and other readers too) by covering interesting topics and using clear, simple language. The section continues to serve readers’ needs and interests. Obtain archived 1969-2007 editions of the Mini Page created by Debnam through the Southern Historical Collection at UNC: http://www2.lib.unc.edu/dc/minipage/.

Prepared April 22, 2014