Are Newspapers Failing Young Journalists?
The following article originally appeared on Poynteronline.
Writing for the Garfield High School newspaper in California was the first step on Leo Wolinsky‘s path to becoming managing editor of the Los Angeles Times.
“I didn’t realize I would end up as a journalist,” Wolinsky said. “But it absolutely contributed to my development as a professional. You need it. It gives you a real-life version of a newsroom.”
So it grieved Wolinsky that he recently had to eliminate the Times‘ popular “Saturday at the Times” high school mentoring program and its annual newswriting awards ceremony. The move saved $200,000, a small portion of the budget cuts that the parent Tribune Company needed Wolinsky to make in meeting Wall Street’s profit demands.
In December, the Quad-City Times in Davenport, Iowa, killed the print version of its one-year-old teen tabloid Your Mom. (The publication is still available online, though, at YourMomOnline.com.) In January, The Hartford Courant, another Tribune Co. paper, ended its 15-year-old urban youth journalism project, MetroBridge. [Editor’s note: The author of this article served as the editor of MetroBridge during the 2003-04 school year.] And on April 4, The Tennessean in Nashville published the final edition of its eight-year-old Newspapers In Education effort for high schools, Teenessean.
Some newspapers run thriving teen programs, but the number of student initiatives at professional newspapers likely is declining, said Sandy Woodcock of the Newspaper Association of America Foundation.
“It is very troubling because it demonstrates that newspapers are not making a commitment to groom readers from cradle to grave,” said Woodcock, director of the Youth Editorial Alliance for the NAA Foundation.
In a 2002 American Society of Newspaper Editors survey, editors at 37 percent of newspapers said they sponsor teen pages. The survey identified 217 teen publications, and since less than half of the nation’s newspapers participated in the survey, the actual number is higher. But the number isn’t growing, Woodcock said.
“There is slow growth in young reader products, but not in the teen market,” Woodcock said.
Some teen programs are thriving, like the one at the Detroit Free Press, run in part by recruiting and development editor Joe Grimm. The Ford Motor Company and other local corporations began co-sponsoring the program in 1985 in response to city education budget cuts that ended high school newspapers.
The Free Press supports about 300 student journalists annually. At each of 15 high schools, news staffs of 20 students publish one full page of news six times a year. The pages run in Free Press editions that go to schools through the Newspaper in Education program.
Grimm said that one of his favorite parts of the program is the annual awards ceremony. At this year’s May 8 banquet, the Free Press honored the best high school journalist at each school, Ford gave a $24,000 college scholarship to one promising young journalist and $4,500 in savings bonds for essays about safe driving.
“In Detroit, it is tough to recruit people, so we want to grow our own,” Grimm said. One former student in the program left a reporting gig at The New York Times to become an editorial writer at the Free Press, he said.
“There is slow growth in young reader products, but not in the teen market.” —Sandy Woodcock
While budget is always an issue, Grimm said, the Free Press understands that bigger issues are at stake: supporting the community, building teen readership and creating paid circulation. And, he added, “this is a great way to interest teens and students in journalism careers.”
Grimm said he feels professional journalists owe more support to young journalists.
“It is discouraging how little newspapers do for high school journalists who are involved in free speech issues,” Grimm said.
With American newspapers bemoaning the lack of younger readers, it seems counterintuitive to halt such goodwill efforts, NAA’s Woodcock said.
“The whole idea of these products, it would seem to me, is that they evolved out of a need to build readership, and that is a long-term investment,” she said. “I think it is a real blow to the community to lose these programs.”
Here’s what has happened at three newspapers.
At the Quad-City Times, Your Mom is continuing as an online product, but the newspaper and its owners, Lee Enterprises Inc., couldn’t make the print version work financially. It ceased publication in December, said Andrew Wall, director of human resources at the Quad-City Times and publisher of Your Mom.
Your Mom began as a project spearheaded by a class of grad students at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said Hillary Rhodes, one of those students. After researching the industry and the audience, the students developed prototypes and included marketing, staffing, budget and editorial concept ideas. The name was a joke in the class, but it stuck. Lee Enterprises liked the concept and hired Rhodes to make it happen.
Within a few months, 10,000 weekly copies were hitting the streets, but the return rates stood at almost 75 percent, Wall said. Yet anecdotal evidence showed Rhodes that the paper was reaching youth, and that the print product was drawing teens to Your Mom‘s Web site.
“There were a lot of positive experiences I had and things I saw that gave me hope,” she said. “For one thing, we trained 50 or 60 local kids to be completely comfortable in their local newspaper’s newsroom. That is important, especially if you are trying to build a committed relationship between young people and their newspaper.”
Professional journalists owe more support to young journalists.
After a year, Rhodes accepted an offer from The Associated Press to work at asap, the wire service’s new youth readership initiative. With ongoing distribution problems, plus the cost of the printing, the Quad-City Times decided to focus on only the online edition a few months later.
The (Nashville) Tennessean announced in February that it was cutting its teen pages and published its last Teenessean in April. Part-time Teenessean advisers Becky Fleenor and Chris Williams both had education degrees and worked directly with students and teachers who received the paper through the NIE program, Fleenor said. Both have since left the paper.
“It is something I truly believed in, and I never minded going out and working for the newspaper,” said Fleenor, who worked there 17 years. “We would do four or five workshops a year for teachers, and they were always so amazed at what they could do, and that is how newspapers gain lifelong customers.”
The Hartford Courant determined in its latest round of budget cuts that print was not the way to reach youth in Hartford, said Vivian Chow, the Courant‘s vice president of human resources and corporate affairs. In January, the Courant cut MetroBridge, which was started in 1992 as a tool to recruit and train minority journalists from Hartford.
“We now have interactive platforms we didn’t have years ago, and for the 18-to-34 demographic, we have online platforms,” Chow said. “We have to make sure we are with the times. The Internet is the way that age group wants news and entertainment. We are not abandoning that demographic, we are just changing the delivery method.”
“We are not abandoning that demographic, we are just changing the delivery method.” —Vivian Chow
“MetroBridge is a program that we cherished,” Courant managing editor Cliff Teutsch said. “We have had to do so much cost cutting in the news department, our staff had shrunk so much, I thought it was something we couldn’t ask our smaller staff to do anymore. We regret it terribly. People on our staff had a real passion for this program. We have had people from MB go all the way through school and come here and be employees. We know the values of these programs, but with so many competing priorities and the need to put reporters on the streets, we couldn’t do both.”
Teutsch would love for MB to come back, but he doesn’t see his newsroom budget increasing, he said. That’s what hurts for Wolinsky at the Los Angeles Times, too.
“I think it is a real blow to the community to lose these programs,” Wolinsky said. “The newsroom shouldn’t be financing it. The burden shouldn’t be on the editorial budget. This is the responsibility of the company at large. We do have a responsibility to educate.”
“This is the responsibility of the company at large. We do have a responsibility to educate.” —Leo Wolinsky
Christine Strudwick-Turner was editorial chairperson of the Los Angeles Times‘ Student Journalism Program for eight years, working with two other staff members. All three left in February when the budget was cut. During her tenure, she helped expand the program to five counties and created a mentoring program for high school journalism advisers.
“It was beyond successful. We were changing lives,” Strudwick-Turner said. “In a time where the profession of journalism is under siege, and many are questioning its relevance, for the next generation we were showing them journalism is relevant.”
The L.A. Times still donates volunteer hours and prints 120,000 monthly copies of L.A. Youth, an independent, not-for-profit monthly print publication written by and for teens since 1988.
Freelance writer Ken Krayeske earned $2 an inch stringing high school sports for The Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American when he was a 17-year-old high school senior in 1989. His alma mater, Holy Cross High School in Waterbury, shut down its award-winning high school newspaper, The Cross Chronicle, in 2002. Krayeske also edited MetroBridge, the teen newspaper of The Hartford Courant, during the 2003-04 school year.
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Has the newspaper industry turned its back on aspiring young journalists?