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Journalists share importance of work

Just eight miles from Independence Hall, students in the William Penn Charter School wrote America’s first high school newspaper in 1777. They lacked both a printing press and a journalism teacher, but published 60 handwritten issues for their fellow classmates.

Today, despite technological revolutions and changing attitudes towards high school newspapers, student journalists still serve their peers, schools and communities.

The Student Press Law Center and other non-profits declared 2019 as the “Year of the Student journalist“, Jan. 30. High school newspapers across the nation have run columns in response, with the goal of highlighting the important roles journalism plays in students’ lives.

With organizations like the Newseum publishing student newspapers on their front pages, the Year of the Student Journalist movement aims in part to give legitimacy to high school publications. Karl Grubaugh, who advises Granite Bay High School’s publication program, says events like this and Scholastic Journalism Week bring awareness to the true nature of high school publications.

“The Year of the Student Journalist is just one more reason that gives student journalists credibility,” Grubaugh said. “The stereotype of high school journalism is that it’s gossip, all you’re doing is talking about what’s on the lunch menu, it’s the latest dance, the latest football game, but the reality is that it’s far, far more than that. These kinds of things like the Year of the Student Journalist helps us to promote and highlight the real work that’s being done and the real stories that are being told that help defy some of those stereotypes about high school journalism.”

Feather staffer Vijay Stephen reaches out to the Student Press Law Center, who supports the 2019 Year of the Student Journalist event.

Six-year Feather veteran Alex Rurik, ’19, has met with staffers and advisers from student newspapers across the country and learned about their struggles. He says the solution to limited readership is for student writers to continue publishing quality articles.

“One thing that makes it hard to be a student journalist is that people don’t take you as seriously some of the time because you aren’t a professional,” Rurik said. “We have to do our best and most honest work for people to see if we are legit. A good student journalist is one who cares more about what they’re doing than journalism just simply being a class. They take their effort beyond the classroom walls and work diligently to get the best story they can.”

Paige Provost | The Feather Online

Senior Feather editors Sam Cross, left, and Alex Rurik, right, speak at the 2018 CSPA conference in New York. Both editors have met with fellow high school journalists throughout America.

In addition to helping student writers overcome obstacles, one of the goals of the 2019 Year of the Student Journalist event is to display unique stories high schoolers break.

Jim Boren, former Fresno Bee Executive Editor and current executive director of Fresno State University’s Institute for Media & Public Trust, started his own journalism career in high school. He says school newspapers have a unique voice, and challenges student journalists to work together to create a better product.

“Students journalists play a unique role by covering their schools and related activities in depth,” Boren said. “No one is going to pay more attention to what is going on at Fresno Christian than the Feather staff. This is a time [for student journalists] to learn about journalism through their schools, teachers and mentors in their communities. Obstacles that stand in your way can be less of a challenge with the help of those who have already worked through them.”

In 2013, The New York Times wrote an article that found a declining interest in student newspapers. Grubaugh, who has 30 years of media experience and 35 of teaching, has seen in recent decades less high schoolers join their school’s newspaper. However, he says that recently more teens are becoming interested in student media because it discusses topics relevant to them.

“I have found it encouraging that in the rise of all the fake news accusations from the president and others,” Grubaugh said. “It is encouraging to see students coming toward journalism in part because they want to tell stories that matter, that are accurate, that are truthful, that reflect their experience.”

Bryce Foshee interviews Karl Grubaugh about topics related to the Year of the Student Journalist in the following podcast.

Students journalists still report community stories while attending classes and participating in school activities. Grubaugh says that interacting with the community and their peers makes journalism meaningful for many students.

“I think that’s why it resonates for students; because it’s real, it’s not just an exercise,” Grubaugh continued. “I get students that are committed to doing well, they get the concept of doing good journalism because it’s their name on the story, it’s their name on the photograph, it’s their name in the staff box, and they know that we have an audience of a thousand on certain stories. I think that’s powerful for students.”

Stay tuned for more articles about high school journalism during the 2019 Scholastic Journalism Week, Feb. 17-23.

For more articles, read COLUMN: Serena Zhao shares American culture experience and Discover Fresno encourages engagement with local organizations, pt. 1.

Bryce Foshee can be reached via Twitter @brycer_f and via email.
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