Streams

This Just In: Students Love Print

Thursday, December 22, 2011 - 03:01 PM

Teenagers may be getting their world news and celebrity gossip through online news sites, but most are still getting their school news the old fashioned way: print newspapers.

Nationally, only 27 percent of high school newspapers have a Web presence, according to research from Kent State University. Even more surprisingly, according to the Kent State report, only 8 percent of student newspapers nationwide are exclusively online.

In New York City, where only about 50 percent of public high schools have student newspapers at all, compared to 64 percent nationally, newspaper advisers face a variety of hurdles to achieving an online student newspaper

If the problems are technical, resources exist for newspaper advisers who are holding back because they don’t feel Web-savvy enough. Sites like my.hsj.org, which is run by the American Society of News Editors and Interscholastic Online News Network simplify the transition to online news with free hosting, support and a variety of design templates.

But many advisers and others have been surprised to find a more philosophical reason for the lack of online student newspapers: students prefer print.

That baffles Mark Goodman, who holds the Knight Chair in Scholastic Journalism at Kent State's Center for Scholastic Journalism. The center produced the 2011 Scholastic Journalism Census.

“These students are living in an online media world," Mr. Goodman said. “They of all groups should be early adopters for their student media.”

Experts said students' resistance to change could be depriving them of learning opportunities that can better prepare them for college.

“It puts them at a serious disadvantage,” said Mr. Goodman. “Online media is so common and so prevalent in the outside world that without that as part of the scholastic journalism program you are not teaching them what they need to know.”

These skills include reporting for a general audience that might be wider than the one they had with their print publications in school. It also means learning to write more quickly, and doing it while following the same rules of accuracy and ethics that guides good print journalism.

“I see it here at Kent State," Mr. Goodman said. "The kids that show up without online journalism experience have a lot of catching up to do.”

Rachel Anderson, the founding adviser of the three-year-old Panther Press at Pelham Preparatory Academy in the Bronx, said she shares Mr. Goodman's concerns. Ms. Anderson, whose journalism program is now confined to an after-school program, said she is trying to convince the school to let her make the journalism class a part of the daytime curriculum so she can offer an online program in the after-school club.

“These students are not really ready for college. They are not developing the life skills that they would if we offered a class on Web design or online news writing,” said Ms. Anderson, who studied journalism at the University of Florida. “We’d be able to build more world awareness and they’d be more well rounded by having a global perspective of an audience bigger than their school.”

Still, print is alluring, said Cadance Turner, the student newspaper adviser of The Curtis Log at Curtis High School on Staten Island for 19 years. She said the newspaper uses Twitter and QR codes, which can be scanned by cell phones, to spread news.

But the Web site is only updated after the print edition has been distributed, she said, and her students value the moment, every six weeks, when the paper comes out and they distribute it to their peers' classrooms during the first 10 minutes of third period.

“They get to see the reactions of their readers. It validates them,” she said. “You don’t get that with the Web.”

In fact, she said, the Web is so low in student esteem that the lowest-level entry position on the news staff is Web master.

“They love the print. Something about holding it in your hands can’t compete with the Internet,” said Ms. Turner.

“Being on the Web is like being a second-class citizen to them,” she said. “When they go to journalism conferences they feel bad for the kids who don’t have print.”

At Bayside High School in Queens, students are not pushing for a Web presence, said David Shein, adviser of The Baysider.

“Our newspaper is the student voice. If students want to have the paper online, it has to come from them,” he said.

Still, even without a Web site the students are learning 21st-century skills, Mr. Shein said.

“Design, layout, process of putting the paper together using proper sources and without mistakes -- these are crucial to life after high school,” he said.

The year-old Lehman Mac had no choice but to be Web-only, said Teresa Matthews, the adviser at Lehman High School in the Bronx.

She said she spends about 10 to 15 hours a week of her own time updating the site, but she too longs for a print edition.

“There is something to print that cannot be replaced,” said Ms. Matthews, who was the print newspaper adviser at Kingsbridge Academy for five years. “There’s a different level of enthusiasm from the students when the paper comes in.”

With her online paper, the students are receiving comments from all over the world, and it has been eye-opening for them, she said.

“Once they realized that there are people reading this, especially adults, they did better work,” she said.

She also agrees with Mr. Goodman that being digitally savvy will help students in college.

Still, she longs for a hard copy version of the paper. “One cannot replace the other,” she said. “They should support each other.”

Mr. Goodman agreed that both news platforms are valuable, but said schools that aren’t taking full advantage of the Web are missing out.

“There is a good opportunity for young people to have a larger voice,” said Mr. Goodman. “When we don’t give them that chance, we all lose out.”

Some newspaper advisers and students said they have bigger worries than platform.

“Before I get them to think outside of a print newspaper, I have to get them to write the piece first,” said Samantha Thornhill, writer-in-residence at the Bronx Academy of Letters and adviser to The Raven. “With students bogged down with so many other things, it’s not the highest on their list of priorities.”

And readers have to be motivated, too. “It would be nice to be online,” said Sade Stewart, 17, a Raven editor, “but we’d still have an awareness issue where we’d need to get the students excited about reading school news.”

Ms. Stewart said her peers at college who have online news experience will probably be offered more internships than she will, but that is not the point. “The bigger concern is people getting used to hearing and reading the voices of young people,” she said.

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