Like their professional counterparts, high school news organizations are moving online and fretting over budgets, but they’re also fighting censorship. This according to advisors from Southern California high schools who brought their students (some 300 strong) to the USC Annenberg School of Journalism’s high school journalism gathering Friday for a day of panels and journalism shop talk.
Many of the 30 advisors who gathered this morning to commiserate and trade solutions said they were ditching the print edition to go online only. One advisor said she was seeking “more of a social engagement site. You can actually get them to read things if you go online.”
Part of what’s driving them there is of course money. One advisor said his entire budget (it had been only $497) had been eliminated, which “forces my students to be entrepreneurial.” Tales of entrepreneurialism around the table raised everything from driver-school and tuxedo-rental ad sales to covert candy sales. Some noted they had no budget to lose. A high school neighboring Annenberg’s central-city campus said her students go to Hollywood television tapings, serving as audience members at $15 a head (transportation provided) to fund their journalism.
As for censorship, an advisor who said she is already under prior review added that she has trouble pleading her case with her principal, who sneers, “whaddya gonna do, plead ‘freedom of speech?’” when she defends her students’ work. (“At least he’s heard of the First Amendment,” a colleague responded wryly.) Said another: “I’m the only teacher on campus who, if I do my job, will be in trouble.”
One advisor said she was having so much trouble with the principal that she found herself breaking into tears for a week. “I thought that I’d LOVE to get rid of journalism,” she said, but knew it wasn’t true: “It’s so important that the kids have a voice.”
The day opened with recognition of former high school journalism advisor Jan Ewell, who was instrumental in winning passing of a bill signed into law in late September that will prevent school administrators from punishing teachers for their students’ exercise of First Amendment rights. At the panel discussion, which followed that ceremony, teachers of Ewell’s long experience joined novices to tell of newspapers that had been shut down but now were returning to life, some of them paid for by the advisors themselves. They shared stories of ASNE’s high school journalism advisors’ workshop, counsel from the the Student Press Law Center, and online chat rooms that feel like faculty lounges peopled only by journalism advisors.
Amid the travails, the work, it seems, is still worth it. “It’s addicting,” one man said of journalism advising. “Once you start start doing it…”
Annenberg’s twice-yearly High School Journalism Day gatherings are funded by the Los Angeles Times, and organized by Diane Guthman.