Not long ago in The New York Times, foreign affairs columnist Thomas L. Friedman paid homage to Hattie M. Steinberg, his high-school journalism teacher. “I took her intro to journalism course in 10th grade, back in 1969, and have never needed, or taken, another course in journalism since,” the two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner wrote. “She was that good.”
Friedman is among the legions of newspaper folk who say their passion for journalism was sparked in high school. Yet the leaders of most scholastic journalism organizations say that despite some bright spots, high-school newspapers today are not in the best of health. It is estimated that 20 percent of high schools lack a student newspaper, most notably in urban areas and rural communities. At those schools where newspapers exist, the situation is often tenuous. Concerns abound about censorship, dwindling resources, veteran teachers who retire and are replaced by untrained newspaper advisers, scheduling of classes that makes it virtually impossible for students to take electives (such as courses in journalism), and the perception among some aspiring journalists and their advisers that the professional press is not interested in nurturing them.
With such circumstances at the high-school level, it’s no wonder that newspaper editors lament the difficulty of finding and retaining staff and accredited university journalism programs scramble to get students into the print journalism track. “Teens who don’t get exposed to hands-on journalism are being denied not only a potential career path, but also miss out on gaining a better understanding of the role media play in our society,” said Richard A. Oppel, president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) and editor of the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman. “A lack of scholastic journalism programs is also a key factor in why newsrooms struggle with increasing the diversity of the staff.”
Last year The Freedom Forum conducted a survey about newsroom diversity issues and learned that 22 percent of white journalists cited working on a high-school newspaper as a “very influential” factor in their career choice. The percentages are higher for journalists of color: 26 percent for Hispanic Latinos, 28 percent for Asian Americans, and 31 percent for African Americans.
In the spring of 2000, with the financial support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, ASNE developed and launched an ambitious national high-school journalism project that seeks to jump-start and revitalize scholastic journalism. With a $500,000 planning grant, ASNE has developed and launched three multi-year programs to train teachers, nurture aspiring journalists, and share information on the Web.
This summer, for the first time, about 200 teachers committed to advising student newspapers will take part in a two-week, for-credit newspaper program at six accredited colleges of journalism across the country. They will emerge from the ASNE High School Journalism Institute better informed about newspaper operations, practices, news values, and ethics. Tuition and graduate credit hours will be covered by the program, which will also provide teachers with a subscription to their hometown newspaper for classroom use, books and periodicals for a school journalism library, and memberships in regional and national scholastic journalism groups. Six universities have been selected to administer the program from among 31 accredited schools of journalism that applied: Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, Kent State University in Ohio, Hampton University in Virginia, the University of Maryland, the University of South Florida in Tampa, and the University of Texas at Austin.
At the start of this year, 27 daily newspapers and their 31 high-school partners received technology grants of up to $5,000 to launch a student newspaper or improve an existing one. In some instances, a local college journalism program signed up as a partner as well.
- The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson, Wakefield School and the University of Arizona are working together to produce a monthly student newspaper that will be distributed to 600 school families. To bring attention to the project, The Arizona Daily Star will print and distribute a special bilingual edition of the student newspaper to 7,000 local families. The partners will also work with students to create a fine arts publication that highlights photojournalism.
- At Kakankee High School in Illinois, a 13-year-old laser printer and 12- year-old scanner are giving way to iMacs and digital cameras. Teacher Cheryl Benoit says the upgrade is “a dream come true.” Students will work under the tutelage of their adviser and staffers from The Daily Journal. The newspaper will also offer summer internships to promising teens.
- The Philadelphia Daily News has designed a journalism curriculum to be taught by newsroom staffers to supplement work being done in a communications class at William Penn High School. The Daily News is working with a teacher at the school to set up e-mail mentoring and job shadowing. The ASNE grant will be used to purchase desktop publishing software and computers so the students can regularly publish a school newspaper.
A second round of 20 ASNE Partnerships will be funded later this year for the 2002 calendar year. Also, a new Web site created by ASNE, (www.highschooljournalism.org) received 200,000 hits in November. Content is geared toward students interested in journalism, their teachers and advisers, guidance counselors, and newspaper editors. The site features skill-building exercises, sample lesson plans, a spotlight on high-school newspapers throughout the country, interaction with professional journalists, and updates on scholastic press freedom issues.
“The response to this project from newspaper editors across the country has been tremendous,” said Susan Bischoff, chair of ASNE’s Education for Journalism committee and deputy managing editor of the Houston Chronicle. “So many of us fondly remember our first forays into journalism, the support that others gave us, and the hard lessons we had to learn. It’s our responsibility to grow the next generation of journalists. We’re in this for the long haul.”
Diana Mitsu Klos is senior project director of the American Society of Newspaper Editors in Reston, Virginia. Along with the high-school journalism project, she also supervises programs focused on journalism credibility, strengthening the ties between college journalism professors and daily newspapers, and training editors from abroad. Prior to joining ASNE in 1996, she was managing editor of the Poughkeepsie (N.Y.) Journal. She has also worked for the Norwich (Conn.) Bulletin, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, and The Daily Journal in Vineland, New Jersey.