I wish I could tell you that my old alma mater (Marshall County High School in Lewisburg, Tenn.) still publishes a student newspaper, but that would be fake news.
The defunct MCHS paper (where I spent some of the happiest, nerdiest years of my life) has a lot of company. A Google search promptly brought up a National Public Radio story from four years ago titled “High School Newspapers: An Endangered Species.” Around the same time, the New York Times reported that only one in eight public schools in New York City produced a newspaper.
Numerous factors have contributed to the decline of student newspapers. For one thing, tight budgets have squeezed extracurricular activities in general. Too bad a good PR person hasn’t helped newspapers compete with the extracurriculars that fire up more community support. (“No, there aren’t many concussions or torn ligaments, but that rascally ‘Associated Press Style Book’ would just as soon paper-cut you as LOOK at you!”)
Standardized testing has taken time away from “luxuries” such as journalism classes. But emphasizing fact regurgitation over creativity and common sense may not work out so well in the real world. (“The robber wants me to give him my money or my life. But he didn’t offer options C and D! I can’t function without options C and D!”)
Schools have always seen a dichotomy between those students who eagerly await the gossip and accolades of the student newspaper and the hipsters who find the whole endeavor “lame”; but the immediacy and brevity of today’s social media have made ink-on-paper reporting seem as outdated as emptying the potbelly stove ashes for the schoolmarm. Still, the passage of 10 or 15 years might make the periodical seem less tedious. (“So, reading my three-paragraph expose of gymnasium conditions doesn’t seem so boring compared to staring at the wallpaper in your parents’ basement, does it?”)
I hope society can recognize the value of a strong student press. Student journalists give parents/taxpayers a more nuanced view than the “Okay, I guess” or “Everything sucks” assessment that students usually deliver upon arriving at home. (Granted, it may be just “Okay, I Guess And Whatever: Which Is Right For You?” or “Everything Sucks, and We’ve Got The Bar Graphs To Prove It”; but you take your victories where you can get them.)
No matter what career path students wind up taking, student journalism teaches invaluable job skills, such as teamwork, sensitivity to deadlines, analytical thinking, clear writing and protecting company shareholders from calamitous split infinitives!
School newspapers have a value that goes far beyond the brief time they’re “hot off the press.” Although the yearbook gets all the glory, the school newspaper is a priceless time capsule of fads, fashions, slang, nicknames and Burning Issues. (“Grandpa, I never realized you were so passionate about animal rights. But wasn’t that sort of hypocritical? I mean, weren’t newspapers printed on dinosaur skin or something?”)
There are some positive signs. A teacher at MCHS has agreed to coordinate young journalists, and my hometown paper (the Marshall County Tribune) has graciously offered to give them a page in the weekly shopper to air their news and views.
I hope teachers, newspapers and potential financial backers nationwide will take inspiration from this.
“Retro” is in. Someday there may even be a Pulitzer Prize for Outstanding Reporting On Chalkboard Eraser Clapping!
Danny welcomes email responses at firstname.lastname@example.org and visits to his Facebook fan page “Tyree’s Tyrades.”