Standing outside the back entrance to the front office at Duncan U. Fletcher High School, I received news I hoped wasn’t true, but knew in my heart was inevitable: The journalism program at Fletcher was going away entirely.
I had hopes of turning around the official journalism program while there was one, but any hopes of that were dashed when it was shuttered. The program didn’t have any alumni of distinction who wrote for the paper, wasn’t prestigious by many accounts, but it was a resource that students could use to stay informed about their community and issues that impacted them. Even if it hadn’t been up to snuff for a while, it still could once again have become a valuable asset to students, teachers and parents. Knowing all of this, learning of the ending of the program was disheartening to say the least.
The program had begun steadily fading away after the loss of the school’s full-time journalism teacher in 2009; in 2010, the school newspaper ceased to be published. In 2013, it was resurrected as a digital-only publication. Both teachers assigned to the program after 2013 had more passion for creative writing and either could not or did not give journalism the time and attention it deserves.
There were other factors that led to the demise of journalism at Fletcher. The principal, James Dean Ledford, spoke candidly on the reasons. “There [was] a lot more requests for creative writing,” said Ledford. He also mentioned how tight the budget is, and how that contributed to his decision to stop offering journalism courses at Fletcher. “If I could feasibly provide a class for the seven kids who want journalism, I would … but it’s not feasible.” Ledford mentioned that grades were a concern among students. The structure of the journalism classes made it such that students couldn’t take an honors journalism class without taking Journalism 1 and 2 first. This deterred students from taking these courses, as doing well in classes that aren’t weighted like honors classes can drag down a GPA.
There are, however, weighted honors elective courses at Fletcher that the administration has allowed students to take, such as the debate courses, without completing the prerequisites. Restructuring the journalism program into this format might have made it more accessible. Putting the newspaper back in print, and thus back into the minds of students, might have helped as well.
This is not an isolated incident, according to Danielle Dieterich, a fellow at the Student Press Law Center, which provides student journalists with legal help and resources.
“What we’ve seen a lot of is struggles with funding at a lot of different schools,” said Dieterich. She described seeing school papers get cut back, switched to digital only, and shut down entirely.
To see journalism programs and school newspapers shut down not just at Fletcher, but in many parts of the country, according to Dieterich and reports by NPR and The New York Times, is disheartening. To me, journalism has the power to truly change the world, and to see it dissipate slowly in high schools around the nation has me worried about the future of the industry.
This concern has made me fight for journalism in my own school and therefore in my own life. In doing so, I have resolved to carve out my own path. I’ve attended workshops, volunteered with news outlets, and even been published by local NPR affiliate WJCT, an outlet I’ve dreamed of working for.
This path has provided me with countless opportunities to grow and learn more about the world I live in. Now I would like to be able to give my fellow students those same opportunities.
So this year, I intend to bring journalism back to Fletcher High School in full force by reviving The Northeaster, the school paper of old. It’ll include feature stories, resources for students, and the professionalism and integrity you’d expect from a journalistic outlet. Principal Ledford may not be able to feasibly offer journalism courses, but he says he’s more than willing to support The Northeaster with what it needs. He said he could help arrange sponsors for printing costs, and even talked of integrating journalism into the creative writing course.
The media provides so much value, not just for the kids at Fletcher, but everyone. Journalism keeps you connected with the world, it helps you understand issues that affect you, and it can teach kids not to just be connected, but to be engaged in our society.
I think Danielle Dieterich said it best, “A big part of it is that if you don’t have student journalism […] there’s a lot of students who are gonna be a lot less engaged ….
“Journalism is a way to learn directly about government … how decisions are made in a community … there’s a hole there that journalism can fill.”
Bogle is a senior at D.U. Fletcher High School.