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Feb 8, 201310:33 AMEducation Matters

Another MCPS High School Newspaper In Financial Trouble

Feb 8, 2013 - 10:33 AM
Another MCPS High School Newspaper In Financial Trouble

The latest edition of Silver Chips, the award-winning student newspaper at Montgomery Blair High School, was spread across my kitchen table last night as my daughter and her cousin avidly read an article discussing the range of their fellow students’ sexual orientation.

That story led to an engaging discussion about the sexualization of teens and raised questions about the sources for the story and whether they fully represented the student body at the Silver Spring school.

The scene amazed me: These two girls, products of the wired generation, were actually engrossed in reading a print newspaper—that supposed dinosaur in a digital age.

It’s just more proof  of the important role that print newspapers continue to play in school communities—and one that’s increasingly threatened as advertisers abandon these newspapers for the financial promise of social media. 

Last fall, the student staff of The Tattler at Bethesda-Chevy High School had to suspend publication and make a public plea to help raise funds so they could resume printing the highly regarded newspaper that’s been publishing since 1926.   

Now Silver Chips, celebrating its 75th anniversary, is facing its own tough financial times. 

Faculty adviser Joseph Fanning says the newspaper is struggling to raise revenue to pay for printing; costs for each edition’s 3,000 copies, can run from about $1,760 to $2,100, depending on the number of color pages. That’s a total of about $15,000 for seven editions per school year.  

Advertising revenue pays most of the printing costs; the school newspaper also receives $500 from MCPS, and donations from the PTSA and parents. The newspaper staff needs to raise about $6,000 to print its final three editions this school year.

Like other school newspapers, Silver Chips used to be able to rely on businesses that cater to students—driving schools, SAT prep companies and even colleges and universities—to buy ads. But many of those sources are turning to online advertising instead, Fanning said.

That’s a common problem facing school publications—and a microcosm of what’s happening in the newspaper industry, according to Logan Aimone, executive director of the National Scholastic Press Association.  “Advertisers don’t need newspapers to get their message out any longer,” he said.

And that’s bad news for high school newspapers and the role they play in keeping students informed about what’s happening in the building where they spend six or more hours a day, as well as offering an outlet for exploring teen perspectives on local and national issues dominating the news. 

Like other high schools, Blair also has an online version of its school newspaper, and some would suggest that the school could save thousands of dollars in printing costs by getting rid of the print edition.

But that solution would result in the loss of much more than a printed copy of the newspaper. There’s something about the impact of everyone reading the news at the same time and reacting to a story or a photo that just can’t be replicated by going online, Aimone said. 

Currently, Blair distributes the newspaper to all English classes so that “every single student gets a copy of the paper in their hands,” Fanning said. If Silver Chips existed only online, students who may not have access to the Internet would never see it.

Fanning points out that Silver Chips serves an academic purpose as well. Blair’s English teachers use the newspaper as a teaching tool that’s becoming especially more important now that standardized tests are relying more on nonfiction texts, he said. 

And let’s not forget the considerable learning experience of the 50 or so staffers—writers, photographers, artists, business staff—who work on the paper.

“Schools need to think about that and what is going to evaporate when we lose that tool,” Aimone said.  “Print still plays a really important role in the school community and [schools] need to find a new business model.”

That’s exactly what Fanning is thinking. He plans to meet Monday with the staff to consider ways to raise revenue.

Ideas could include the purchase of a server independent of MCPS for the online newspaper, which would allow the print and online versions to offer advertisers access to both versions. There’s also the possibility of securing patrons, like other high school newspapers have done.  

While Silver Chips is “still above water,” Fanning was concerned enough about the future to outline the newspaper’s financial plight in a plea for funding distributed through the PTSA listserv this week. 

He’s confident the Blair community will respond.

“I think that once everyone understands the gravity of the situation, everyone will come through,” he said.

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