- The Washington Times - Friday, March 13, 2009

LEE’S SUMMIT, MO. (AP) - Josiah Jones is the editor-in-chief of an award-winning magazine, guiding a staff of 90 that also produces podcasts and a Web site.

It’s heady stuff for an 18-year-old senior at Lee’s Summit High School near Kansas City, Mo. After he graduates, Jones plans to pursue a journalism career, completely undeterred by the forces buffeting the profession. Newspapers are cutting back or closing and thousands of reporters have lost their jobs.

Media advocates worry that those factors _ budget problems, advertising declines and the migration to Internet-based news delivery _ are reaching into high school, leaving print publications especially vulnerable.

For now, the printed word remains a top focus of most high school journalism departments, but the move to add online components is growing, said Diana Mitsu Klos, senior project director for the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

The ASNE hosts 2,626 student news sites on its online site. The site, which began in 2002, was connected to 150 student media sites by mid-2003, 400 at the end of 2006 and 735 in December 2007.

“There’s no doubt that’s the trend for youth journalism, to both post and consume online,” Mitsu Klos said. “This is obviously the next and necessary step for them, to make the information available where (students’) social networks are.”

Others contend that high school journalism will thrive by finding ways to merge traditional print with Web-based publications. Jones is one of the optimists, but he’s curious to see how journalism will be delivered when he graduates from college.

“I’m fascinated by what’s happening multimedia-wise,” Jones said. “It’s going to open doors as far as what we can do as journalists. We’ll continue to even out all our options between Internet-based publications, print journalism and everything in between.”

High schools are embracing online publications because they allow more immediacy, innovations such as podcasts or videos and don’t require a district to buy increasingly expensive newsprint and ink or sell advertising to support small press runs.

Patrick Stoddardt, the 16-year-old Web site editor at Lee’s Summit High School’s journalism lab, said the school is trying to “go where its audience is” by using social networking sites to draw readers.

But many students still prefer the printed publication.

The Lee’s Summit High School publication, Hi.Life, is so popular that students pay for it _ 50 cents a copy _ and it always sells out about 600 copies, said journalism adviser Marc Russell. That revenue plus advertising sales raise about $12,000 to support the journalism program.

“We have found that if we run out of publications, people come to us and say ‘When are you going to have more?’” Russell said. “We have not seen a decrease in readership or interest in the print publication.”

That’s still true in most high schools, said Logan Aimone, executive director of the National Scholastic Press Association, largely because the paper is aimed at a small group of people who spend seven or more hours together every day.

“There’s a lot of buzz when the paper comes out,” Aimone said, “because it’s something their peers have produced, it’s about them, their friends are in it.”

And some schools simply can’t afford the equipment, teachers and time required to add a full online product.

Kathy Habiger, publications adviser at Mill Valley High School in Shawnee, Kan., said her school doesn’t have a Web presence because it doesn’t have server space or teachers needed for a Web class or video department.

Administrators have some concerns about expanding student journalism to the Internet, she said, and the print publication has struggled with a decline in advertising revenue.

“We would love to have a Web presence,” Habiger said. “Our students need to learn those skills. I may need to do a better job of getting our administrators to understand its importance.”

Many high school administrators worry about putting student journalism online, where the audience expands to potentially millions of people, said the NSPA’s Aimone.

Issues such as removing content and publishing students’ identifying information online can be especially prickly for high school administrators, who have to walk the line between First Amendment issues and protecting their students’ privacy and safety.

In response, the NSPA is publishing a guidebook for multimedia use at high schools.

Aimone and others say pressure on high school administrators to meet academic standards set by the No Child Left Behind Act also endanger journalism courses. Schools that lose federal funds because they don’t meet the standards often drop or reduce elective classes such as journalism.

A 2008 Newspaper Association of America Foundation study found students who worked on school newspapers or yearbooks had higher grade point averages, scored better on ACT tests and showed better writing and grammar abilities in college than those who didn’t take journalism classes.

“We would argue that journalism ought to be a core, required class,” said Sandy Woodcock, director of the NAA Foundation in Arlington, Va. “It teaches skills that make (students) better citizens, and that helps society.”

In the end, journalism educators say the way news is provided is not nearly as important as how well students are taught the skills of the craft.

“Just as in commercial journalism, the concern must be less about how it’s conveyed,” said Mitsu Klos of ASNE. “What is important is, what will be the economic model that can ensure quality journalism? Ultimately, we need to find the best way to support and sustain quality journalism.”

___

On the Net:

ASNE high school Web site: http://my.hsj.org

Lee’s Summit journalism Web site: http://www.jlabmag.com

ASNE: http://www.asne.org

NAA Foundation: http://www.naafoundation.org

NSPA: http://www.studentpress.org/nspa/

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