FADING INK: Columbia Prof Calls Student Papers “Irreplaceable”

Is student journalism dead? Am I irrelevant? Have I wasted four years of my life?

While I am not used to this kind of self-doubt, the fact is that newspaper after newspaper – including the New York Times – have come to believe that high school journalists are a dying breed. This is pretty scary stuff: after all, my staff and I believe in the Sentinel enough to sacrifice hours and hours to generating content. Are we just perpetuating an anachronism?

This series is an attempt to answer that question. And since this is the first article in the series, it’s only fitting that we speak to an expert in education and journalism.

Enter Cathy Guerriero, an adjunct professor of education at Columbia University and NYU, and a Democratic candidate for Public Advocate. This is perhaps the most overlooked role, being fought for in the most overlooked race, in New York City politics. Earlier in the campaign, even Dr. Guerriero had to admit that the office simply isn’t “sexy” by NYC standards: with a tiny staff and budget constantly under siege, the office that is nominally the second-most important in the city is nowadays seen as little more than a holding tank for potential mayoral candidates. For instance, Bill de Blasio, the current frontrunner in the Democratic mayoral primary, is the incumbent Public Advocate.

Dr. Guerriero at the Good Stuff Diner on 14th St in Manhattan.

Dr. Guerriero at the Good Stuff Diner on 14th St in Manhattan.

But I did not sit down with Dr. Guerriero only to drink Diet Coke and to talk about local politics. As an educator – and as a former editor-in-chief of Wagner College’s student newspaper, the Wagnerian – Dr. Guerriero is uniquely qualified to describe the impact of scholastic journalism on a school community. As a budding politician, she can certainly speak to the role of the press in society.

Blunt by nature, Guerriero says that she believes in journalism, and especially in student journalism. “The press is significant,” she says, regardless of the rising tide of social media that seems to threaten the traditional model of reporting.

Even more stridently, she declares that “there’s no substitute for the student press. It’s singular. It’s irreplaceable.”

And not just for students. To Dr. Guerriero, the scholastic press is vital for faculty members and parents to understand the students under their supervision. “It’s the point of view of those living the experience, [and] if [a student newspaper goes] away, that valuable place for understanding goes away as well.”

She’s also very frank about how her time as an editor changed her as a person, improving her writing and giving her the skills she needed for her early career as a sports journalist for the Staten Island Advance. “My time at the Wagnerian got me my first job, which put me through [graduate] school and on the road to my career. My time as a journalist has affected everything I’ve ever done.” Not that she considers her brief tenure as a reporter only a springboard to her later academic career. “It was my favorite job,” she says of her time at the Advance.

To this day, Dr. Guerriero says, she tends to think of things as a reporter, asking herself, “Where’s the story, Cathy?” This also blends into her political rhetoric: when she describes how she would serve New York City as Public Advocate, she explains that, to her, the “Public Advocate’s job is to create a second story to that of the mayor – a larger story.”

Furthermore, she seems determined to ensure that students after her have the same opportunities that she had. She was shocked when I showed her the New York Times article that has been the genesis of this series, and explained that, in her opinion, the emphasis on STEM in schools today (which tends to take money out of humanities programs such as journalism) is a “huge problem.” She explains that “[the humanities] are important parts of people’s lives. The few among us who can craft a cogent sentence will always be the elite” in a world where English education – and, by implication, student journalism – is neglected.

As my allotted half hour with Dr. Guerriero came to an end, I asked her if she had any advice for our readers. She didn’t hesitate and she didn’t bat an eye.

“Get in the game,” she said. “I don’t know what the downside is to being engaged in everything you do. High school is about trying everything.”

Wise words from one editor to another.

— Sebastian Bates, Editor-in-Chief

[Note: This article is the first in a series, “Fading Ink,” dealing with the role of the scholastic press in society, and the impact that it has on education and on the development of those involved in student journalism. It is being produced in response to an article in the New York Times, “At School Papers, the Ink Is Drying Up,” which deals with the decline of student newspapers in the New York metro area.]

Posted by on September 9, 2013. Filed under FSPA,World News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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