What Newspaper Crisis? The Blazer Continues Its Trail

By BRAD DAVIS

The San Francisco Chronicle might close. The Star Tribune of Minneapolis is bankrupt. The Miami Herald is for sale.

But The Blazer is still going strong.

Dying? Not The Blazer.  BRAD DAVIS/Covering Education

Dying? Not The Blazer. BRAD DAVIS/Covering Education

Its latest front page reports on the Math-a-Thon and exposes a problem with people leaving garbage at their lunch tables.

Its staff reporters aren’t worried about newspaper industry layoffs. The newspaper’s 36 staff members are ninth through eleventh grade students at the World Journalism Preparatory School, a new public high school in Flushing, Queens, whose mission is to teach broadcast, print, new media journalism alongside the basics.

Even as commercial journalism sinks, the school’s founder says journalism’s lessons still hold value in the classroom.

Cynthia Schneider, World Journalism’s principal, hatched the idea of a journalism-based curriculum after 22 years teaching English and journalism at a high school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Two and a half years after submitting her application to open a small school under the umbrella of the Department of Education, World Journalism opened its doors in 2006.

The school started with 169 seventh and ninth graders, and has filled in other grades – from sixth to eleventh – over the past two years. Next year, the school will add its final class, a twelfth grade.

Schneider proposed a journalism-based school because she said the skills of a journalist are suited to any career path – and to the state and city tests students are expected to pass.

“Journalism is the embodiment of every single standard,” she said.
Instead of simply teaching a rote English curriculum, journalism forces student reporters to really know a topic, Schneider said.

“You can’t write about science if you don’t know it. Writing is the thread that holds everything together,” she said.

On a recent Tuesday, students in Starr Sackstein’s broadcasting class researched topics in small groups to produce a “news package,” which Sackstein told students to structure in a way that related to their other classes. One student suggested doing a feature on the “Twilight” movie for a literature-focused package; another suggestion: a feature on global warming for a package on earth science.

Tenth grader Mariela Ortiz said she applied to World Journalism because she likes creative writing. She said she didn’t plan to be a journalist, but that the skills she’s learning in her classes would prepare her for anything she wanted to do.

“I like the process. It’s just hard work,” she said.

Eleni Gaginis said she wanted to go into medicine. She applied to World Journalism not because of its focus on the media, but because of its small class sizes.

But, “writing’s always important,” she said.

In Sackstein’s newspaper class, students prepared for the next issue of The Blazer, which is set to hit the stands on March 20. She told students to post to their class blog.

“What is the student voice?” Sackstein asked the young journalists. “We want to get the student voice out there.”

Some students worked on staff editorials; others said they wanted to cover a sports story.

Bernadette Cea, a student teacher in the newspaper class, said no matter whether students aimed to write professionally, the experience of working on a class publication forced them to take learning seriously.

A group of students working together to produce an actual product led to a different kind of attitude about school, she said. A much different attitude from the ones she observed when student teaching at a traditional school on Long Island.

“They give the kids so much responsibility for themselves here,” Cea said. “Kids are accountable.

“To get kids to write, No. 1, is a huge feat. To hand them a copy of ‘Great Expectations,’ it’s boring. It’s horrible for them,” Cea said. “But if at the end there’s a product that gets passed around to the entire school, sure, they’re more interested.”

Whether or not that product – a newspaper – will still exist by the time some Blazer staffers are ready to join professional newsrooms, doesn’t seem to phase these students. They’re already preparing for April’s issue.

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1 Comment

  1. I am so excited to see that as a writer for the Blazer is good. I can honestly say I am happy with the work we’ve done and how much effort we put in it. I can surely say that we’ve grown from the beginning to now. I cant wait to see what will happen in the last issue of the school year. :)

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