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The Final Edition for School Papers? : Education: No one's writing an obituary for the publications yet. But advisers say the quest for resources is starting to overwhelm them.

March 21, 1994|GLEN JUSTICE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The presses at Crenshaw High School are up and running again, but nobody can say for how long.

For the past five years, students have produced the Cry of the Cougar off and on--sometimes monthly, sometimes quarterly, always eagerly. But the paper's fortunes are perpetually tied to funding and the availability of an adviser to oversee publication, a responsibility many teachers are loath to take on. No adviser, no paper.

"The problem is that the district doesn't compensate journalism teachers well enough," said Robin Hernandez, Crenshaw's most recent journalism adviser. "The headaches outweigh the compensation. If (a high school) has a good paper, it's because of a teacher. Somebody is trying."

Even with Hernandez in the publisher's chair, the paper has had problems. A dozen students share just one computer. Few businesses have been interested in sponsorship or advertising, so there is never enough money.

"I think it's a shame that a big high school like this can't manage to get out a lousy school paper every month," she said.

Crenshaw's story is similar to those at high schools throughout California, where newspapers are dying off as school budgets have shrunk and priorities are focused on basic educational needs, said Mike Jordan, a journalism professor at Pepperdine University. To make matters worse, most newspapers are left out when companies eager to fund futuristic television and multimedia labs make large grants to schools.

School newspapers nationwide are suffering from the same problems, according to a recent study published by the Freedom Forum, a media think tank based in Arlington, Va. The study concluded that editorial and financial restrictions on high school newspapers nationwide are worse now than 20 years ago.

Jordan, who has been polling California schools, said between 15% and 20% of the state's student-run publications may have perished in the past five years, although, he added, final numbers are not in.

School newspapers have declined to such a degree that Windgate Publishing, which publishes L.A. Parent magazine, began printing a journal aimed exclusively at teen-agers four years ago. Noise, as it is called, is written by a paid staff of teen-age correspondents and distributed throughout Los Angeles.

"We provide what high school newspapers used to provide--a training ground for future journalists," Editor Norbert Sparrow said.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District, nearly all of the 49 standard high schools publish a student newspaper of some sort. But many come out only sporadically and almost all report problems with funding. Furthermore, most programs are completely dependent on the work of a single journalism adviser.

Part editor and part teacher, advisers traditionally concentrated on journalistic basics. But as support for student newspapers has eroded, many say their part-time advisory duties have become full-time quests for resources to keep the papers alive.

Alison Rittger, who heads the program at Narbonne High School in Harbor City, said she has spent her own money to buy computer equipment. Josephine Zarro of Manual Arts High School tried to run the presses herself. And Westchester High School's Cyril Baird speaks of a never-ending quest for money.

"The struggle gets worse every year," Baird said. "We find ourselves having to sell chocolate and wash cars."

All of this comes in addition to normal teaching loads.

"Even five years ago, every school had (a paper)," said Jordan, who is conducting the poll for the Southern California Journalism Educators Assn. "They were healthy. They had experienced advisers and budgets. They were well-organized and printed frequently. What has happened in the last five years is disturbing.

"Journalism advisers are retiring or moving on and the papers aren't sustaining themselves. Publication is going from 10 times a year to two or three."

Although journalism classes in the Los Angeles district are electives and not a graduation requirement, they are accepted for credit by University of California schools.

The classes are not well funded because they don't draw large numbers of students, said Dick Browning, director of the district's Senior High School Division. Because most school newspapers lose money and because electives in general are underfunded, Browning said publication may indeed be getting more difficult.

Still, "The death of high school journalism is exaggerated," he said. "I don't think it's happening yet. But there are problems that budgets play into. I don't know if journalism has declined . . . but it's been a problem over the last 15 years. It hasn't been well funded and it's getting worse."

*

Michael D. O'Sullivan, principal at Fairfax High School, referred to the death of his school's paper three years ago as "a casualty of shrinking enrollment" in journalism classes.

But many teachers said interest would increase if they could put out a better product. Jordan agreed.

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