Are High School Student Newspapers in Trouble?

Are high school student newspapers disappearing en masse?  In a full-on “ink is drying up” rundown earlier this week, The New York Times documented the startling, sudden lack of student papers at New York City public high schools.

According to the Times, “The student newspaper has long been a cherished tradition at many of the nation’s top high schools, one that allowed students to take initiative and hone their writing skills while absorbing lessons in ethics and responsibility. . . . [T]he decline of these newspapers in recent years is not a loss only for schools, but also for an industry that is fighting for survival.”

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I would add to that Times snippet: This decline– if not supplanted by digital news offerings– would also be a huge loss for college media and higher ed. journalism programs.  A student news shortage in the scholastic ranks could have as big an impact on collegemediatopia as the long-term debilitating effects of the Hazelwood decision.  (If you recall my late February Poynter piece— “We are raising a generation of sheep.”)

Now, New York City’s scholastic press troubles are certainly troubling on their own. But is the Big Apple’s student paper shrinkage a genuine problem of national proportions?

To help provide perspective, I solicited the thoughts of Kelly Furnas, an assistant professor of journalism at Kansas State University and the executive director of the Journalism Education Association— the country’s “largest scholastic journalism organization for teachers and advisers.”  (Shameless plug alert: He is also a contributor to Journalism of Ideas.)

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Furnas: “I haven’t seen any evidence to suggest that there’s a connection between the newspaper industry’s profit margins and the state of high school journalism programs.  However, this article looks at a segment of high schools– especially those in low-income areas– that have the hardest time maintaining elective or extra-curricular activities.  You could have just as easily replaced ‘student newspaper’ with ‘foreign language classes’ or ‘arts’ and the article probably would have read the same way.

“There are a ton of variables that affect the viability of a student newspaper, and finances are certainly part of the equation.  While sometimes advertising helps support student newspapers, staffs also fund printing through fundraisers, sponsorships, state support, and booster programs.  Unfortunately, those schools in areas where advertising sales are challenging also are going to struggle with those other funding models, too.

“However, I’d argue the most dangerous threat to a journalism program is the turnover of teachers in those schools.  Teaching journalism can be an especially stressful, time-intensive and lonely position, and the lack of support can be a real threat to their longevity.  Without a steady hand overseeing a journalism program, small problems can suddenly become major threats to the newspaper’s existence.”

Related

Six Things Your Student News Outlet is Not Doing Online

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  1. […] “However, I’d argue the most dangerous threat to a journalism program is the turnover of teachers in those schools.  Teaching journalism can be an especially stressful, time-intensive and lonely position, and the lack of support can be a real threat to their longevity.  Without a steady hand overseeing a journalism program, small problems can suddenly become major threats to the newspaper’s existence.” http://collegemediamatters.com/2013/05/30/are-high-school-student-newspapers-in-trouble/ […]