Press run for high schools

Young journalists face many of the challenges of the profession


Come deadline this week, The Scroll's editor in chief Becca Freifeld will be in a tizzy - prodding her writers to finish their articles, putting the final touches on the paper's layout and making sure that everything is in order before this month's issue is sent to the printers.

Her fellow newspaper editors at Oakland Mills High School have coined a nickname for Becca's frantic behavior.

"The overlord of journalism," said Ashley Hartman, a senior and the paper's editorial editor.

Inside the quasi-newsrooms of Howard County's 12 public high schools, dozens of dedicated and aspiring student journalists are making sure their classmates are informed about what's happening in their schools, community, the country and the world.

They rant in editorials about the latest school rules and new state laws curbing teenage driving. They write about the irrelevant (what's hot, what's not in fashion) to the serious (global warming). They also cover the traditional: homecoming, sports, prom and high school life.

And they are getting a real-life glimpse into the industry, encountering similar issues such as declining advertising sales, ethics questions and the daily - well, the monthly - grind of feeding "the beast" as professional journalists like to call it.

All the while, these young journalists are practicing their craft and dreaming of bylines in big-city newspapers.

"I just love it," said Jessica Bauer, co-editor in chief of Hammond High School's The Bear Press, who plans to pursue journalism in college. "It's so much fun. The newspaper is like my baby."

In Maryland and across the nation, most high school newspapers are produced by students enrolled in journalism or newspaper production classes, said Gary Clites, president of the Maryland/D.C. Scholastic Press Association.

Most of the Howard County high school newspapers are published six times or more a year on a limited budget - just breaking even or suffering a loss. And outside of their respective schools, the newspapers get scant attention.

"I would love to see more support for the journalism program," said Kathy Baer, a school system secondary language arts resource teacher, who oversees high school newspapers. "Most people don't realize how hard it is to put out a newspaper."

In many ways, high school newspapers are run like a business, mirroring the professional industry. With media companies under pressure from declining ad sales and lower profit margins, students also struggle to sell advertisements, solicit donations and raise funds.

The Howard County school system has provided $500 to each high school newspaper for this school year, which barely covers the cost of one issue at some schools.

"Most counties provide some level of funding; they just don't provide enough money for all the issues," said Clites, who is an adviser of The Patriot Press, the newspaper of Calvert County's Northern High School, which gets no money from its school system.

In fact, advisers interviewed for this article said the finances - or the lack thereof - is the newspapers' biggest challenge.

"Once we tap out the $500 in the first issue, we're on our own," said Lisa Lewis, who has been advising Glenelg High School's The Shield for five years. "You have to sell an awful lot of $20 ads. We have no profit. We usually operate at a loss."

Printing costs an average of $600 to $650 an issue, depending on the size of the paper. For Centennial High School's Wingspan, which is the county's only high school newspaper to have color on its pages, printing costs about $900 an issue, said Cara Moulds, its adviser.

Because of financial pressures, Hammond newspaper adviser April Askin is leading an effort to solicit more school system funding for the journalism program.

"Why is it coming up as a need in 2005 and why not in 1995?" Askin said, "I don't know about other schools but we have never changed the cost of our ads since I began eight to nine years ago."

Yet printing costs have increased tremendously, Askin said. A quarter-page ad in The Bear Press goes for $50 while a full-page ad costs $100. "I never increased it because who's going to pay more than $80 for a high school newspaper," she said.

Askin added, "I don't think everyone knows how much it costs to put a school newspaper out. We have a curriculum. It's not an extracurricular activity. We need to be funded so that the newspaper reflects the high level of education here."

Despite financial worries, behind the scenes, student editors and writers are dealing with the more routine aspects of putting out their newspapers. Meeting deadlines. Finding new angles or fresh story ideas. Dealing with writers' egos. Editing stories.

And reining in opinion writers.

"We're not trying to offend people," said Elaine Feinstein, a senior and opinion editor of Centennial's Wingspan. "We want to give our writers room, creativity, but it is only a high school newspaper. They don't have a lot of leeway to be critical as someone on the Baltimore Sun."

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