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My career in journalism has been a serendipitous path, which began because of a sabbatical.
The architecture teacher in my high school had taken the year off, and I was left with a gaping hole in my course register at 10 a.m. Demoralized and hoping for a reprieve from algebra and biology, I sought out the advice of my counselor who recommended an introductory journalism course as a possible mitigation. I had never reported before or considered a career in the news industry.
I took her advice and enrolled, taking to the work of the news industry almost instantly. A year later I was interning for KQED in San Francisco, the local NPR affiliate, and four years later I would graduate as editor-in-chief of a publication I stumbled my way into joining. If it wasn’t for my high school’s publication, I probably would never have found my love of reporting as soon as I did.
I may have never even pursued journalism.
As college publications have stepped into the limelight in recent years, the news industry has begun singing the praises of college reporters; but it is impossible to celebrate the work of local journalists without recognizing the importance of high school publications to provide the foundation for many college reporters.
College publications do professional work, reminding us that the main difference between student journalists and their professional counterparts is that students are balancing school and reporting. Some key examples of stellar work include Michigan State’s The State News exposing abuse by Larry Nasser and North By Northwestern’s coverage of racist allegations against Northwestern’s football coach. It is this work and the daily coverage by publications which builds a foundation of solid reporting, teaching many students the tools necessary for future employment.
For schools, the importance of journalism is only growing. Journalism is an important part of education, especially when controversy arises on a local level as seen in Temecula Valley Unified. When covering controversies student journalists have unfettered access to the thoughts, opinions and fears of high school students. And students may be more willing to discuss the realities of what goes on behind school doors from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. with someone they have physics with than an adult reporter.
San Francisco, my hometown, has around 17 public high schools — yet when the city hosted JEA/NSPA National High School Journalism Convention in April, not a single public school attended. Only two public high schools in San Francisco have newspapers and another two schools have smaller programs. This is sadly not an anomaly for urban public schools, since production of a paper is expensive and requires an adviser with journalism experience.
Personally, Lowell High School, my alma mater, provided no funding for the newspaper. Our publication was funded entirely based on grants, alumni donations, advertisements and extensive bake sales. Beyond school site support, the district provides no funds for establishing these programs. There are no established incentives for school districts to support the creation of high school publications.
High school papers, especially in low-income or urban districts, are in short supply. A lack of student publications can exacerbate potential news deserts in smaller districts where schools and communities rely on a dwindling number of local newsrooms for coverage; it places the burden of reporting on larger circulation papers.
It is local high school publications which are the unsung heroes of the journalism industry — they help teach future generations of reporters. Many of my fellow college journalists got their start in high school with a newspaper or yearbook. It is not just the job of colleges to maintain their newspapers; there is also an onus on high schools to provide the opportunity for their students to try their hand at journalism.
There is something special about the work done by high school publications — in many ways it is a commitment and an enduring love for their school which produces this work. I am still proud of the work my friends and I did for our high school paper, and I wish more students had this type of opportunity.
Good high school journalism can change lives. I know it changed mine.
Rae Wymer is a second-year urban studies major at UC Berkeley, minoring in journalism and a member of EdSource’s California Student Journalism Corps.
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