What happens when an institution’s watchdog no longer exists? When no one is compelled to take notice and report wrongdoing? When a community’s stories are not told?
About a week ago, a small article appeared in the regional section of the New York Times called “At School Papers, the Ink is Drying Up” by Winnie Hu. You probably didn’t read it, because you think the end of school newspapers has nothing to do with you.
I think it does.
Perhaps, you may be thinking, it is time high schools move into ‘the real world’ and realize that print media is dying an inevitable death. In the real world, just last week, The Chicago Sun-Times fired all their photographers. In the real world, today’s writer must be ‘creating content’ for ‘SEO.’ The irony is that at my current high school, the district does not even trust students enough to allow them to upload stories to a website – so if we are trying to prepare them for the real world, where online expertise is a prerequisite, we are seriously failing these kids.
Adults have fared quite well so far in the post print newspaper world – we are finding other avenues. We are expressing ourselves in droves online. Some too much, perhaps. Online, the odd teenager is producing an insightful blog or a funny twitter feed, but many teenagers don’t know how to fight with the written word. Sometimes, they don’t realize a fight even needs to take place. Soon, they will be like the proverbial lobster, slowly boiled alive. Sadly, my own idea to further bolster student expression in high schools, outlined in this post, is not going ahead next year. Blah blah funding blah.
What lawmakers and school districts may not realize is that by shutting off healthy, organized outlets of self-expression for students like a school newspaper, they are inadvertently encouraging them to find other methods that may not be so amenable to a school’s goals.
So here’s what could happen when school newspapers finally bite the papyrus: Kids could put together online newspapers outside of school, publish it for free, and say whatever the hell they want. No arguing over ethics. No copy-editing. No research. What they might gain, however, is getting the Hazelwood monkey off their backs (read an earlier post about Hazelwood here). No more principals sifting through their work. No more bowing and scraping to ‘the man.’ We are talking about an actual free press for young people – and better online content that may not be as well-crafted than students who passively drift through high school thinking they don’t have the power to instigate necessary change. (The teacher in me wants to remind students reading this that you still need to conform to libel laws and all of that other stuff I taught you.)
We should not cower in fear when we think of teenagers taking to the Internet to tell their truth, as many who make student press laws and district officials who uphold such laws do.
We should be afraid when they have nothing to say.