Stop the presses?

CAREERS AND EDUCATION ISSUE: The evolving state of high school newspapers

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Paper or pixels? Baseball scores and health education classes figure on the web and print versions of Lowell High School's paper
IMAGES COURTESY OF THE LOWELL

culture@sfbg.com

CAREERS AND ED It's hardly breaking news that the world of print journalism has been flipped on its head in recent years by the rise of the blogger and the trials and tribulations of paper publications. High school newsrooms have hardly been exempted from the medium's challenges. In fact, in many ways they're on the front lines. The pre-collegiate generation, after all, has grown up with itchy Google fingers.

As a high school journalist myself, I felt it was high time we looked at how the youngest crop of newspaper writers is dealing with the dramatic shifts taking place in the media. I interviewed high school student-editors all over San Francisco. I'll profile two in this article who have differing views on what the Internet means to the news — but agree that major shifts are brewing.

Lowell High School has been publishing its award-winning newspaper since 1898. Aaron Pramana, the current web editor-in-chief and the rest of the school's news team put out eight monthly issues of the Lowell each year, distributing papers to the entire student population of 2,800 plus teachers and various subscribers.

Pramana, a 17-year old senior, hasn't seen a drop in readership over his years at the school, and thinks that the majority of Lowell students read the paper regularly. He says that the paper actually plays a pretty big role on campus. "Our paper inspires positive change at our school by bringing to light issues that affect the student body and that might have gone unnoticed otherwise."

But times are changing nonetheless. Like many other high school papers, the Lowell has chosen to create an online website. "We opened our website in 2003," says Pramana. "Originally, its sole purpose was to republish articles already seen in the print edition. Today, our website has special web-only stories as well as multimedia features like photos, podcasts, and video in addition to articles already published." The newspaper also operates an Twitter account and Facebook page during the school year.

Pramana sees the Internet's impact on the paper and journalism on the whole as a positive one — he thinks that professional journalists will adjust to the Internet's popularity, even if it means the loss of a printed paper. "I feel the Internet will help current events and media become more accessible to the public, which is ultimately a good thing. I believe the industry will eventually find a business model that allows them to remain solvent while maintaining quality, even if that means letting go of print publications."

Pramana says his paper tends to publish fewer pages per issues these days "in favor of publishing more web-only stories. This allows us to report on the most timely stories immediately, while saving space in the paper for features and opinions that don't get outdated."

His glowing view of web journalism is not shared by all his peers. Kathy Woo, last year's co-editor of Washington High School's newspaper, believes that the Internet has done more to harm than to help journalism and that it "has generally made a negative impact, in that its convenience has prompted the reduction of printed paper," which in turn has led to paper closures around the country.

But Woo says in terms of Washington High's paper, the Eagle, "students prefer to read the [print version] rather than Eaglei, our Internet site. The paper is distributed to every English class and students are free to — and do — pick up the paper to read." The discrepancy might have to do with the relative usability of the paper's sites — Eaglei is a bit less user-friendly than the Lowell's slickly produced site.

The Eagle, which has been publishing since 1954, is distributed every month and a half. But print distribution is spendy; although readership of the paper was good last year, Woo and her staff ran into budget difficulties when it came to publishing.

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