Underground Student Publications Lead to Revitalization of High School Newspaper
"I loved the idea that students wanted to have their own voice," says 17-year-old Baltimore City College senior Andrew DiMauro. "I came to City my junior year, and originally I wanted to take my old school's journalism class. I come here and I don't get to choose the classes I can take, I don't really see a paper going on, and it's a big change for me, and I'm a little disappointed. And when I hear that fellow students really wanted to get the student voice heard and talk about what's important to them, it's something I felt was important--and apparently a lot of people agreed."
DiMauro sits at a desk in a second-floor classroom at Baltimore City College on a Thursday afternoon along with seven of his peers. Many of these young people are in the international baccalaureate program, a rigorous university-preparatory curriculum with little schedule room for extracurricular electives. And all of them have given their after-school time to relaunch the City College Collegian as a student-run newspaper. Once an award-winning publication in the 1930s, more recently the paper was an offshoot of City College's journalism elective class, an assignment that produced maybe one issue per semester at best.
The lack of a student forum caused two students, junior Maia Gottlieb and senior Marshall Troutner, and their friends to self-publish underground papers in the spring of 2007 that they circulated through the student body, including one called Omnibus. And these publications led to the rebirth of the Collegian this past fall.
"Last year we had a fairly new principal, and there was kind of a lot of unrest . . . in the student body," says Gottlieb, 16, who self-published Omnibus last year and is currently the co-editor in chief of the Collegian with Troutner. "There had been [staff] firings, a lot of early dismissals, and we felt like there was a lot of disconnect between students and a lot of the staff, especially with the administration. And there was no real paper talking about these issues."
As full international baccalaureate students, neither Gottlieb not Troutner had room in their schedules to take City's journalism class. Besides, that version of the Collegian "didn't seem very motivated," Troutner says. Troutner's underground publication was called The Knight's Voice, an allusion to City's mascot. "In the past few years that I have been here, the newspaper did not get many issues out, if any. So I took my paycheck from working and went to Staples and just made as many copies [of The Knight's Voice] as I could afford."
Gottlieb, Troutner, and their peers passed out copies of their underground papers at bus stops, on the grounds on the way to school, anywhere they could without doing it in class and being disruptive. They were modestly concerned about getting in trouble, but that didn't happen.
"We talked to the principal about it, and he even brought [the underground papers] up at a [Parent-Teacher-Student Association] meeting last year," Troutner says. "He expressed an understanding of why we were doing it. Although he didn't officially support it because he really couldn't, he didn't have a problem with it."
Both Troutner and Gottlieb were approached by faculty at the end of the '07 school year about reconfiguring the Collegian, and during the first week of the 2007-'08 school year, the administration announced a meeting for students interested in working on the newly re-formed school newspaper. The Collegian became more of an after-school club than a class, with journalism and creative writing teacher Victor Valcik acting as the faculty adviser. Publishing wasn't going to be a financial hurdle because the Collegian's publishing costs were already figured into the school's budget.
Since last semester, the Collegian's staff--Gottlieb and Troutner, opinion editor DiMauro, news editor Zoë Rammelkamp, arts and entertainment editors Joshua Beckett and Kaitlin Meissinger, sports editor Henry Waldron, copy editor Zachary Wiener, and photographer Andrew Nagl--have put out three print editions (either four or eight pages in length). One issue is available online, another issue is due out imminently, and yet another should be put out before the end of the semester. Stories have ranged from coverage of the City-Poly football game--one of the oldest local high-school sports rivalries, dating back to 1889--to an interview with school principal Timothy Dawson and Rammelkamp's article about Sheila Dixon's mayoral inauguration, which was picked up by the national edition of the American Society of Newspaper Editor's online high-school paper index.
"I guess maybe half of [the Collegian] is things we have to cover, and the other half is things we come up with," Troutner says. "Recently Dr. [Andres] Alonso, the new CEO of the Baltimore city public school system, he came to City for a PTSA meeting and spoke to us for about two hours about concerns, and we had to cover that."
"Or the [Baltimore] Algebra [Project] protests in Annapolis," Wiener adds, alluding to the Feb. 6 protest where 25 members of the student-activist group were detained for demanding that Gov. Martin O'Malley be held accountable for his "historic underfunding" of Maryland public schools. The staff also cites a recent City administration endeavor to install security cameras in and around school grounds, proposed budget cuts, and the Baltimore Barack Obama rally as other topics the paper will address in its upcoming issue.
"We try to have a broader view," Gottlieb says. "A lot of school newspapers just focus on the school. We obviously do that, too, but we also have a lot of articles beyond that--about the city and the world."
As DiMauro, Troutner, and Wiener are departing seniors, the Collegian editorial staff will be practically halved by graduation, but the staff hopes this transitional first year has helped generate student interest in what they're trying to do. "A lot of what we're doing this year is new," Troutner says. "Basically, the Collegian has been overlooked and ignored for years. I never got the chance to talk to anyone who had been on the newspaper staff before, so we really didn't have much to go on."
"We're kind of making it up and seeing what works," Gottlieb says.
"But hopefully all this being so brand new, people are going to start getting used to it," Troutner adds. "And hopefully it will be a lot easier next year for people to recognize the Collegian, recognize who's in it and what we do, and be able to join and follow through and carry on with things."
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