Extra! Extra! Bringing back student newspapers


From college applications to chlamydia, movie reviews to sports reports, the Oaktown Teen Times covers it all in its January issue — or all that will fit in eight pages.

The publication is part of the Scholastic Journalism Initiative, an attempt to revive high school journalism. The regular student reporters for the Teen Times are from Media, Skyline and Unity high schools, but the initiative is open to all schools. (The Tribune’s Bay Area company prints it for free, and one of my colleagues, Kristin Bender, is a writing coach.)

Lisa Shafer, a former newspaper reporter and a teacher at Fremont Federation’s Media Academy, noted that a number of high schools — including Oakland Tech, Castlemont and McClymonds — no longer have newspapers.

OK, so I’m obviously biased when it comes to this topic. I can’t imagine my high school experience without staying up until all hours on “Press Night” once a month, trying to get The Torch properly laid out.

In all seriousness, though: Why do you think Oakland’s high school newspapers have dwindled and/or diminished, and to what effect? (I guess I could ask the same thing about the newspaper industry, but that discussion is too depressing. Let’s stick to student papers.)

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • John

    Here’s a SCHOOL MAGAZINE NAME SUGGESTION that when slapped on the cover will need a forest full of trees to make enough magazines for the forest of ISSUE HUNGRY student readers.

    Name the magazine: “SCHOOL UNIFORMS – YES OR NO?”

    [Smart advertisers for (non-uniform) hip tight and low crotch apparel would soon be generating more advertising revenue than the Oakland Tribune!]

  • Sue

    I can’t imagine high school without a student paper, either.

    I wasn’t formally on my high school paper’s staff, but I was on the yearbook staff and editor of the yearbook during my senior year. We shared a classroom, teacher-advisor, light tables, and an IBM Selectric typewriter with the school paper. I got to know the newspaper staff, and even wrote a couple of guest editorials while I was a junior.

    It was a great experience, but I still need an editor to cut my excess verbiage. I’m glad to hear that there’s still *something* for students today.

  • http://www.jeaneger.com Jean Womack

    Great reporting, Katy. You always bring up the important issues.

    You have to remember that the advertisers are the biggest supporters of freedom of speech that we have. Also, they are buying into the first amendment when they advertise in a newspaper. It’s an important part of any newspaper. Rather than commercializing the newspaper being a bad thing, it is actually a very good help to a school budget and the learning experience of the kids. Also, it involves graphic design, an important topic nowadays.

    There’s a principle in business called loyalty to the boss. It’s also called no hand-biting. Don’t bite the hand that is feeding you. Of cousre kids tend to think of the school administration as their enemy, instead of the people who are providing for them all the good things in life. But the school newspaper is the wrong place to complain about the school administration. Oh well, said enuf.

  • http://www.jeaneger.com Jean Womack

    Hi Katy,

    Here I am back again. Just can’t shut up, I guess. Glad to see student newspapers brought to light in the Tribune today.

    San Francisco used to have a publication called “YO,” which I think stood for Youth Outlook, which was distributed free to all the schools. It was a pretty interesting, slick publication, but they started getting too far out for most of the kids and the San Francisco community, when they started talking about how some people think that illegal drugs are actually legal. That may be true, but why introduce that concept to people who didn’t alredy have it-who didn’t already get subjected to that whole panorama of propaganda from the drug world. They used to call it the “left” but there were plenty of people in there from the right, so most people don’t refer it to left and right anymore.

    I don’t know what happened to YO, maybe they are still going strong, but I would not give that magazine to my kids until I had read it myself. Same thing is probably true for the Scholastic version of a high school newspaper, which can’t be anything like a real high school newspaper because the kids don’t write it themselves, although I could be wrong about that.

    Sometimes I think we are constructing the students’ minds, like building a very good cheeseburger with the best ingredients we can find. Plus we have some sauces from some other countries to add flavor and interest.

    Once more, a couple of key ideas–don’t bite the hand that is feeding you, and the newspaper does not exist in a vacuum. The newspaper has to have eyes and ears in the community, taking the pulse of the community all the time, every day, swimming like a fish in the ocean with the other fish. Selling advertising is one way to keep one’s eyes and ears in the community and remember, those people are the best friends the journalist will ever have.
    Jean Womack

  • John

    Some observations regarding some of the above comments: (a) Criticizing the administration would be fine if it actually generated advertising revenue for a school newspaper. (That’s how it is in the real world that students are supposed to be learning about). (b) Students are consumers who, by attending school, support the school with ADA (tuition in a private school), enabling teachers and administrators to keep their jobs. Consequently the concept of “loyalty to the boss” may be misapplied here.

    Perhaps a better analogy is court ordered program participation (driver education, rehab, etc.) where the enrollee has to pay for program services and is subject to the rules and directives of those in charge, “the boss.” California law requires students to attend school. They are subject to numerous constraints ‘by the hand they feed,’ NOT the “hand that feeds them.”

    In a real sense K-12 schools are society’s boot camps. They are places where being subject to the commandant (principal) and his/her lieutenants (teachers) is NOT a choice. Consequently, the obligation of “loyalty to the boss” cannot be interpreted the same way it is in the work place, where one is compensated for his/her effort and deference.

    “In California, there are special laws protecting the free speech rights of students in public and private high schools (CALIFORNIA EDUCATION CODE, Sections 48907 and 48950). These laws safeguard a student’s right to: • hand out leaflets • express him/herself in official school newspapers and yearbooks, and “underground” or unofficial newspapers • circulate petitions • conduct polls • set up information tables • organize clubs and sponsor speakers and activities • post notices and posters on school bulletin boards • organize a peaceful rally or demonstration at your school• wear buttons, badges, insignias, patches or armbands.”

    In the controlled environment of a K-12 school, student newspapers (“underground” or other), provide students with an opportunity (with some constraints) to ‘bite the hand they feed,’ the same one that reigns over them.

  • Steve O’Donoghue

    I think some of the posters have a misunderstanding about how student publications work. Under California law and Supreme Court rulings, students are the publishers of student publications, not administrators or schools. This is because having the school officials be the publisher would be like having the Federal Government be the publisher of the Chronicle or Tribune.

    Second, an important role of all journalism is to be a watchdog over government. Schools are have budgets of millions of dollars and have huge impact on communities. In large metropolitan areas where there are lots of schools (there must be 30 high schools in Oakland alone) professional papers can’t cover every campus. So student publications that monitor how administrators behave (or misbehave) are vital.

    Some people are under the misapprehension that just because they are students they should not be held to the same rules (and respect) as professionals. This is missing an important fact: the standards for high school publications is the same as professional publications. A fact is a fact, attribution is required, telling all sides of a story demanded.

    While there are many great people in education (I know, I taught in Oakland for 33 years), like any institution there are bad apples. Students have a right to voice their opinions on adults who don’t live up to expected standards. On one campus I worked at we had a principal who was missing most of the time working real estate on the side, another who took $10,000 earned by students in a state program as a reward for meeting testing goals and required to be spent on student generated items and bought himself a luxury photocopier.

    A study by UMASS and Knight Foundation of 100,000 US teens three years ago found that most American high school students either didn’t know about the First Amendment or were hostile to many of its provisions. Instead of criticizing students for practicing the First Amendment in journalism we should all be applauding them.

    Steve O’Donoghue, Director
    California Scholastic Journalism Initiative

  • teacher

    Steve — great points.

    The reality is, though, that high school papers are hopelessly compromised by their very nature as school class projects.

    The class has a teacher/advisor, and unless they are ballsy veterans, they will censor the hell out of the paper — causing great tension with their students. That’s how it was for me in high school — we wanted to crusade (in, i’m sure, a terribly clumsy fashion) and our rookie advisor was sure we were going to get him fired; consequently, we almost never published.

    At my current school, the advisor job was wrested from a veteran and given to a non-tenured teacher because of one article seen to cross the line. In a sense, he was punished for allowing the kids some freedom to make mistakes — allegedly a crucial component in LEARNING. Newspaper students have told me they’ve been told very clearly they can’t write about administration incompetence.

    Ideally, school papers would be truly independent, like my college newspaper was — we took no financial support from the school so we could operate independently. In reality, this would mean a crude pamphlet approach that might be a lot more interesting to read but which would need some pretty deep committment on the part of students.

    Ironically, if students put out an “underground rag” they would probably get in trouble for distributing it on campus and told they had no right to do so. Any teacher that helped them might suffer repercussions as well.

    Sadly, schools are not truly free speech-friendly zones: Teachers are not allowed by law to share political beliefs, students free speech is routinely crushed (de facto, not de jure), and parents are told unchallenged lies by administrators who are as conscious of public image as any spin doctor or communist apparatchik!

    It’s hilarious to read what principals tell parents about the grandeur of their children’s education when we know the truth…

  • http://youthoutlook.org Kevin Weston

    YO! Youth Outlook Multimedia is still gong strong. In 2006 we went web only because of the costs associated with printing the magazine. This fall we are re-launching the mag. to serve Oakland and San Francisco. In the mean time you can find us on the web at youthoutlook.org — video, blogs, news reports, concert reviews, etc. audio and print (updated daily). You can also find us on television every week on your tv20 (cable 13) Sunday late night (12:30am) and you can hear us on KMEL every sunday 8-10pm on Street Soldiers.

    Jean Womack — Thanks for remembering us but I have to disagree with you on our content. We always prided ourselves on being real. The drug culture in the bay area is something many teens and young adults know everything about — what we did, and will continue to do, is reflect that reality and offer alternatives to destructive behavior. We are not a school newspaper, many of the young people we work are coming from the juvenile justice system or foster care. These are the students that sit in the back of the class and do/ say nothing, but when given the real opportunity to tell their stories they write the realist shit. We’ve gotten kicked out of H.S. campuses because of our subject matter — the beautiful thing is for every one that doesn’t want us 3 call and ask for us. Why? Because students that don’t read anything will read YO! Why? Because it’s written by people just like them on issues they are going through in a literary and visually stunning way.

    The head of the Oakland Public Library sent me an email 2 months ago almost begging for the mag. we get 4-5 calls a week form teachers — and other youth workers — from across the country. We do a good job and in this digital world (which we are entrenched in) print is still important. We provided a needed service to the education community in the bay area and nationally and any teacher that used us in their classroom can attest to that. That’s why we’ll be back in effect this fall. If their are any teachers, youth workers etc. that wish to get the magazine holla.