Training

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Jeff Jarvis notes the shuttering of a high school newspaper in Georgia. The students have a blog telling their side of the story and linking to PDFs of their work.

Jarvis urges folks to write the school principal to make a case for continuing the paper. I’d like to suggest that folks in the media community go a step further — the stated reason for the discontiuation is financial, peppered with complaints about quality of reportage. If you’re a journalist or former journalist, or a writer with formal or experiential training in reportage, send your email with an offer to edit/advise the students by phone or email.

My email to the new principal and the former principal (now superintendent) is in the continuation of this post.

From: Mike Orren
[mailto:mikeorren@pegasusnews.com]
Sent: Monday, May 23, 2005 11:14
AM
To: ‘Regina.Montgomery@cobbk12.org’;
‘Randolph.Bynum@cobbk12.org’
Cc:
‘jeff@buzzmachine.com’
Subject: Pebblebrook
newspaper

Regina and
Randolph:

 
I learned today of
the cancellation of the newspaper program at Pebblebrook High School. I’m
particularly touched by this issue because of my experience as a high school
newspaper editor in Greensboro NC in the late 80’s. Although we weren’t shut
down, our paper was censored and "defanged" because we tried to tackle serious
issues at our school, some of which begged criticism of the
administration.

 
I understand
financial pressures, but the comments
made in the press about the
quality of the paper suggest that money is not the key issue. I looked at PDFs
of the year’s papers online– The growth in advertising and patron support over
the course of the year suggests not only that the paper was well-serving its
community, but also that it could be self sustaining. (At my high school, we
delivered a semiweekly paper and made enough money to support the product
and to buy computers for a quarter of the classrooms at our
school.)

 
Taking away a
journalism class, particularly in this new era where every student with access
to a computer can post unedited commentary on a blog is absolutely the wrong
move. If you deprive students of a venue to produce supervised, edited
journalism, then you force them to express themselves without having learned any
of the basic tenets of fair reporting. (In fact, with the rise of student blogs,
I wonder that a basic journalism class shouldn’t be a requirement rather than an
elective.) I fear that depriving students of the opportunity to learn reporting
and editing skills in the school environment is far more dangerous and
inflammatory than the alternative.

 
If you saw flaws in
reporting on certain stories, perhaps the paper could openly address those
directly in a future issue. Shutting them down leaves any wrong in the original
piece uncorrected.
 
I’m not one to cast
stones without offering help, so I’d like to offer to help you as best I can. I
would be willing to supplement the workload of your newspaper advisor by
editing/advising your students by phone or email for up to eight hours a month
during the next school year. I wouldn’t be surprised if you found others who
would be willing to do the same.

 
Finally, Mr. Bynum,
I implore you to be careful what you say in publicly criticizing the work of
these student journalists. In the end, they are still not adults — mistakes
must be expected, if not encouraged. And as a leader of the school and district,
your words can do irreparable damage. In my case, the chastisement of the school
administration swung opinion such that our controversial work went from drawing
praise to drawing condemnation and even death threats at my home. When you
criticize these students publicly, you implicitly give their peers and their
community license to do the same.

 
The experience I had
as a censored student journalist, excoriated by school administration was
wrenching. It also has formed the backbone of my career in media. There are
countless others who can probably say the same of their high school
newspapering. I urge you to meet with the students in the program and develop a
sustainable program that ensures the ongoing publication of Brookspeak. I’d be
happy to help in any way I can.
 
 
-Mike Orren

Mike Orren is the Chief Product Officer of The Dallas Morning News; President of Belo Business Intelligence; husband to Crystal Orren; and a Mungarian at Munger Place Church in Dallas, TX. All opinions herein are mine alone.