A Kensington sixth grader is trying to help keep local journalism alive with his own weekly newspaper
Every Sunday morning at precisely 7 a.m., 11-year-old Jonah Waranch wakes up to set out on his paper route. He’s delivering The Byeforde Weekly, a free newspaper he founded in September 2018 and named after the road where he lives.
“I was trying to find something to do one Sunday morning and it just popped into my head,” says Jonah, a sixth grader at Silver Creek Middle School in Kensington. “So I’m like, ‘Why not? I have all day.’ So I made one.”
News of The Byeforde Weekly spread by word of mouth, and Jonah now delivers the three-page paper to 26 houses in his Kensington neighborhood. The route used to take him an hour, but he’s whittled it down to 45 minutes by memorizing addresses and finding shortcuts. Though his parents have asked him to push back the 7:15 a.m. delivery time, Jonah insists that “real newspapers get delivered very early.”
The chaos of 2020 has given him “a lot to work with,” he says. This past spring, Jonah covered mass unemployment and the crowding of Ocean City, Maryland, beaches, among other pandemic-related topics. A mid-July issue included a review of the newly opened Playa Bowls smoothie shop, an obituary for Georgia Rep. John Lewis, and an op-ed on why watching movies is a beneficial activity. Jonah recently launched a Byeforde Weekly website (byefordeweekly.com), which includes multimedia elements like an informational video about the history and meaning of Memorial Day and a survey asking readers for their thoughts on the newspaper.
When the pandemic started, Jonah emailed his readers a digital edition of the paper, but now he’s back to hand-delivering, throwing the stapled newspaper onto lawns instead of slipping it into mailboxes. (He still sends digital editions to friends outside of the neighborhood and to subscribers who are out of town.) He prints the issues on special thick paper so they don’t blow away. If the weather is bad, he puts the papers in a plastic bag and his parents drive him around to drop them off. He only skips a week when he’s on vacation.
Though Jonah acknowledges that print journalism is fading away, he has no plans to change his model. “When I’m much older, if I’m still doing it—hopefully I am—and I want to keep doing it, I’ll probably grow out of getting up every morning and delivering it and make it [fully] virtual,” he says. “But I’m not planning on doing that. I like it how it is.”
He likes to write political stories—“those are the ones that are on my mind every single week,” he says—and he’s been known to analyze and forecast U.S. Senate races. He wants to be a politician someday. “I feel like all the big dreamers want to be the president,” Jonah says. “I just want to be able to make change in the world.”
His know-how takes commitment, says his father, David Waranch. “I had to subscribe to The New York Times because he says the polling data everywhere else isn’t as good,” David says. “You name a state, he’ll tell you the governor. It’s crazy.” David recalls someone asking him, in all seriousness, “Is it bad that I get all my political news from The Byeforde Weekly?”
The family—including Jonah’s mother, Keren, and sister, Ilana—moved to Byeforde Road from Silver Spring in 2013. “We didn’t know a lot of our neighbors,” says Keren, who works remotely as Chief Development Officer for American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “Him doing [the newspaper] two years ago—it allowed us to meet even more people.”
Keren serves as her son’s editor and says he’ll occasionally end a sentence with a preposition, but otherwise she doesn’t make many changes unless a story appears biased. “The edits are for a good cause,” Jonah says. Keren recalls the time a neighbor gave them a ream of paper as a thank you. “[She knew] we had a printing press in our house,” Keren says.
The newspaper still acts as a conversation starter. “Sometimes I’ll be in the neighborhood and a neighbor will say, ‘How was your trip to New York?’ Or how’s this or how’s that?” says David, who spends a lot of time at Staples. “And I say, ‘How do you know that? I didn’t tell you about that.’ And he goes, ‘It’s in the paper, dude. ’ ”