Journalism Day’s 2017 keynote speaker is Jim Streisel, the newsmagazine adviser at Carmel High School. He was named the 2013 Dow Jones News Fund National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year. Streisel is a rockstar journalist! He plays guitar and sings lead vocals with his band The Dead Squirrels.
How long have you been the adviser at Carmel?
This is my 22nd year at Carmel. When I started, I was the adviser of the topically-based Prerogative magazine and I was the associate adviser of the HiLite with then-adviser Tony Willis. When Tony left in 2003, I took over the HiLite full-time. That advising responsibility includes the HiLite print edition and website as well as the topically-based quarterly publication, The Acumen, which also has an online component.
What has been your favorite part about advising?
I know every teacher says this, but working with motivated young people is what gets me excited to be here every day. The students on the HiLite staff feel a deep sense of responsibility to their readers, and it’s my job to help them say what they need to say in a responsible, accurate manner. Every day is different and every staff has its unique strengths and challenges, which makes for a pretty exciting career.
What is your favorite band?
When I was young, my favorites were Van Halen and Billy Joel, but I had older siblings who gave me a pretty good appreciation for all sorts of groups and styles from Styx to Foreigner to Elton John to the Beatles. Today, though, I’m really into singer-songwriters. My favorite more “mainstream” artists are Jason Mraz and Amos Lee. But I’m also a fan of more off-the-beaten-path artists, too, like Bob Schneider out of Austin, Texas, and Andrew Ripp from Nashville, Tenn. I’ve seen them all in concert at a variety of different venues, and you’ll hear a lot of their influence in the songs I write and play. You should Spotify them.
Who are your musical inspirations?
Well, I just mentioned a couple up there in the previous paragraph. Jason Mraz has always been huge for me. I just really admire his voice – that dude could sing the phonebook and it would sound great. For Amos Lee, it’s his innate sense of soul; the music comes right from his gut and you can hear it when he plays. Bob Schneider is just cool – I don’t know how else to put it – he just has a vibe when he performs that’s just…cool. Andrew Ripp? I’m just getting into his stuff, but he’s got a similar voice to mine and he’s clearly got a lot of blues influence. When I saw him perform last year, it was just him and a guitar and you would have thought he had a whole band up there. He just really captivated the audience. Great stage presence.
How do you balance your love of music and your love of journalism?
I actually think it’s pretty easy. Even before I was really doing music, I made it a point to enjoy a personal life outside of school. I think with any career it’s easy to get obsessed and have whatever it is consume your life. But to what end? I mean, I have a wife and kids that are important to me, too, so I try not to bring schoolwork home. If I did, I don’t think I’d have a very happy home life. Music’s no different. It’s like any hobby or avocation – you find a balance to make it all work.
Can you tell us more about your band? Where does the name come from?
My friend Donny Coyle and I started The Dead Squirrels a little more than five years ago. We started playing open mic nights together and from there we started playing a few gigs and then a few more. We got a drummer and then a different drummer. Long story short, now we’re working on our fifth full-length album of original tunes (due out in May). We play all over the Indianapolis area. As for the origin of our name, it’s a little NSFW, but not too bad. It actually all started with a children’s book, and you can find the full story on our website. We even wrote a little song about it called “The Ballad of the Dead Squirrels”. It’s on our “Dead Cat” album, whose name also has something to do with that origin story.