In defense of high-school journalism

My week-long travel series will resume tomorrow. Thanks everyone for the good response.

I was once a high-school journalist.

My district, Shawnee Mission, is/was arguably, pound for pound, one of the most quality journalism districts in the country. Pacemakers, Columbia gold and silver crowns, national student journalists of the year, design of the year. You name it, we won it.

We’re scattered all around now — most of us went on to something else, but I know of designers and photographers, reporters and copy editors. People for whom working on the Epic, Lair, Indian, Harbinger and Patriot was the start of a life-long commitment to our field. Others among us are lawyers, teachers, doctors, entrepreneurs, police officers, musicians and artists.

I’d go so far as to say that without my journalism education at Shawnee Mission West, I probably would never have studied journalism at KU, never would have worked on the Kansan and never would have come to love editing.

I was a news reporter my sophomore year of high school, then the feature and opinion editor and finally the editor-in-chief. I was able to immediately apply what I had learned to working on the Kansan.

That’s why I was dismayed to learn today that as of 2012, journalism programs in Kansas will no longer receive state funding. We’re on our own now.

This may be a mere annoyance in more affluent districts, but what about rural schools? I was extremely lucky to work on good computers with updated, professional-level software. What about the kids using old copies of Pagemaker on beat-up PCs? With many schools using bare-bones resources as it is, these cuts could very well be the end of high-school newspapers and yearbooks across the state. But hey, that’s what Facebook’s for, right? Right?

While KU’s journalism school draws students from all over the country, much of its core comes from students who have benefitted from rock-solid journalism education in Kansas high schools. Will cutting journalism funding temper enthusiasm for the major at KU? Will students coming in with no training in news judgment, design, AP style or software use be at a marked disadvantage next to their suburban or out-of-state classmates?

The arguments for cutting journalism funding make little sense to me.

It doesn’t require “high skill” sets?

You mean I didn’t have to get an undergraduate degree to be a journalist? Or learn how to use computers, video and camera equipment and software? Sit down in front of a blank InDesign template and we’ll see how “high skill” it can be.

It’s not “high wage”?

Few people have ever gotten rich out of being practicing journalists. But most of us make a comfortable, if modest, living doing what we love. If high wages are the only real indicator of success, why don’t we all just go become corporate raiders on Wall Street? This implies that accumulating wealth gives a career its value, and this is not true. To be accurate, the requirement should be a “living wage,” which journalism provides.

It’s not “high demand”?

Yes, the industry is going through a lot of changes now, and long-term employment is uncertain. But you know what? Nearly everyone I know from KU who wants a job in journalism has one, whether in news or public relations/advertising. Many others are working in other fields, based on their journalism degrees. Obviously there’s a demand somewhere.

There’s also more to journalism than learning to write and tell stories. It’s about working with people, teaching your incoming green reporters the ropes and mentoring them, making judgment calls, learning business acumen and becoming a better communicator in general.

And I’m sorry that that kind of education is no longer worthy of funding in Kansas.


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