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When They Stop the Presses : High School Paper’s Death Is Catastrophic for the Institution That It Once Served

FROM AN ARTICLE in the paper not long ago, I gather that the high school newspaper is an endangered species. Student apathy, low budgets and poor writing skills were blamed, in part.

At Belmont High School, my own alma mater, the paper is published irregularly, and the teacher said he has trouble getting his staff to meet deadlines.

Almost every high school in the city once had a weekly newspaper. Now they are published only occasionally, or not at all.

High school newspapers have always been an endangered species. But student apathy was never the reason. School administrators have always been uneasy about the student press; they never knew when a radical editor might turn on them. Budgets were low. Journalism was not regarded as a wholesome occupation for young people to aspire to.

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That may be one reason why I aspired to it. I had seen “The Front Page,” and its zealous, fast-talking, irreverent reporter hero was my role model. I became sports editor and then editor of the Belmont Sentinel. (To this day, that is the highest position I have ever held on a newspaper.

After the story about the decline of the high school newspaper I received a letter from Jerry Luboviski, my predecessor as editor of the Sentinel and later my city editor at two daily newspapers.

Lubo was a born newspaperman. He was perhaps as much my hero and my mentor as “The Front Page’s” Hildy Johnson. He went on to edit the Los Angeles City College Collegian, when it was a real voice in student politics; and later worked as a top rewrite man at the Los Angeles Examiner and as city editor of, successively, the San Diego Journal and the Los Angeles Daily News. All three of those newspapers are new silent.

“What a depressing story,” Lubo wrote, “about the dearth--or death--of high school newspapers in Los Angeles.

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“Had it not been for the Belmont Sentinel, we’d probably never have known each other. And had it not been for the Sentinel, which led me to L.A. City College and its award-winning Collegian, I would never have known Bonnie and would have missed our glorious 51 years together.

“That means I’ve outlasted four newspapers I’ve been associated with: the Sentinel, the Journal, the Daily News and the Examiner. And my wire service alma mater, United Press, is not in the best of health.”

I have outlasted five of my old newspapers--the aforementioned Journal and Daily News, plus the Hollywood Citizen-News, the Herald-Express and, of course, the Sentinel.

I might also say that it was newspaper work that brought me and my wife together. How could she, an inexperienced high school girl, resist the dashing young columnist of Bakersfield College’s Renegade Rip? (By the way, that newspaper is still publishing.)

The death of a newspaper is a sad event. Something is lost beyond jobs. The staff of a surviving newspaper is never happy to see its competitor fold. Any newspaper welcomes competition.

Thus, the death of a high school newspaper may not depress the general public, but for the high school it served, it is catastrophic. Future reporters should be learning how to write and report in high school. And they should be learning that deadlines are not to be missed.

The Belmont Sentinel in my day was not a great newspaper. I believe it was only three columns wide and six or eight pages in all. We covered the senior prom and the homecoming game and student politics, and we had editorials urging students to be good citizens and excel. We were not exactly the voice of freedom, but we were the only voice there was. To us, we were the New York Sun. And few of us missed our deadlines.

Perhaps the decline of student newspapers may be blamed on the rise of television. Most students don’t read daily newspapers. One wonders whether they read at all, and writing seems to be an endangered skill. No student activity does more to promote reading and writing than the student newspaper.

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I recently saw that old movie, “Deadline USA,” with Humphrey Bogart as the crusading editor of a daily newspaper that is about to be sold and folded. Bogart fights to the end, trying to pin a series of crimes on the city’s gangster boss. Bogart is standing in the press room as the last edition is about to roll. The gangster gets him on the press room telephone. He tells Bogart that if he prints the story he is a dead man. Bogart give the press foreman the signal to let the presses roll. “What’s that noise?” the gangster demands. “That’s the presses, mister,” Bogart says into the phone. “And there’s nothing you can do about it. Nothing.”

There is one thing you can do about it. You can kill the newspapers.


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