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Censorship, tight budgets kill high school newspapers.

High school newspapers seem to be copying their professional cousins in a disturbing way. They're disappearing.

Across the USA, school newspapers have succumbed to budget balancing, censorship and news-industry neglect.

No one tracks closings by the numbers, but the anecdotal and circumstantial evidence is damning, journalism scholars say: "As money gets tighter, administrators see school newspapers as education extras, not basics ...,' Mary Arnold, executive director of the Iowa High School Press Association, said.

Loren Ghiglione, whose newspaper, The News, Southbridge, Mass., has reported on the demise of school newspapers in central Massachusetts, agreed. "Administrators worry about the public's perception of their school system, and they know that student newspapers are threatening media. So in selecting advisers, in funding or in enthusiasm they express to students, they let the school know that newspapers are not a high priority," he said. The Dallas Morning News also has reported on the decline of school newspapers in its circulation area.

As more stories on teen pregnancy, AIDS, drug abuse, suicide, racism and date rape make the pages of high school newspapers, more school administrators have stepped in to control editorial content. In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court gave schools broad power to squelch student speech deemed contrary to their educational goals. The Hazelwood decision reversed 20 years of court-affirmed protection of student expression.

Some journalism programs, despite Hazelwood, have allowed editorial freedom. But more schools have wielded the decision as "an iron fist," Tom Rolnicki, executive director of the National Scholastic Press Association, said.

Censorship reports have increased 25 percent a year since Hazelwood, according to Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, where incoming calls rose to 1,302 in 1992 from 548 in 1988.

"A student newspaper in which all the crucial issues are decided upon by adults isn't really a student newspaper at all," former student editor Tallison Rausch said at a Freedom Forum conference.

Censorship and budget cuts have spawned alternative outlets for expression. Some are "underground" newspapers produced outside of school sponsorship. With such defiant names as Pravda, Subterrestrial and Tell All, they offer teen talk that is taboo at school. Others are citywide independents produced by, for and about local teens under the guidance of professionals. The independents also confront issues too controversial for campus.

Youth Communication, partly supported by Freedom Forum funding, sponsors independent newspapers in New York, Washington, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Wilmington, Del., Portland, Ore., and Toronto. "The [school newspapers] suffering the most are [at] inner-city schools with a minority population," said Donna Myrow, executive director of Youth Communication-sponsored LA Youth. Few school newspapers in Los Angeles have survived the budget ax, she said.

Mainstream newspapers, preoccupied with their own survival, have been co-conspirators in the descent of high school journalism. A 1989 American Society of Newspaper Editors survey found that less than a third of responding newspapers sponsored or assisted high school newspapers in some way. Only 17 percent said they provided financial help.

The irony is that newspapers may be able to help themselves by investing in scholastic partnerships.

"I believe that students who attend high school where there is a strong newspaper ... go on to become newspaper readers and appreciate the role of newspapers in society," said Diane McFarlin, executive editor of the Herald Tribune in Sarasota, Fla., and ASNE Education Committee chairman.

ASNE will distribute a "how to" guide for newspapers to get involved with high school journalism programs at its 1993 convention in Baltimore.

Without industry support, high school newspapers may join their cousins like the San Antonio Light, Pittsburgh Press, Dallas Times Herald and Arkansas Gazette, all of which recently published their last editions.

Censors busier

at high schools

Censhorship reports have increased 25 percent a year since Hazelwood, according to the Student Press Law Center. Some examples:

* An Oregon principal refused to allow the school newspaper to report on any of the school's sports losses.

* A Fort Wayne, Ind., principal censored an article that documented financial improprieties by the tennis coach, even though the principal felt the story was factual and accurate.

* An Anchorage, Alaska, administrator confiscated film taken of a fight in the cafeteria by the school photographer, not to identify the fighters, but to prevent publication of the photos.

* High school officials in Skokie, Ill., tried to prevent a senior from attending his graduation after he poked fun at a rival school in his farewell column.
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Title Annotation:The Freedom Forum supplement
Publication:American Journalism Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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