September 15, 2008
Edgar Mendez’s MySpace page is prefaced with a warning to any potential cyber-friends: “I send a lot of bulletins.” Like many of his peers, the 17-year-old high school senior spends hours each week on the social networking site to keep in touch with his friends and check on the work of his favorite graffiti crews around San Francisco. But unlike most regular users, he sends out at least twenty bulletins each week.
“Mostly it’s pictures or random links,” he says. “Sometimes I post interesting information, but most of the time it’s not news.”
Mendez learned the critical distinction between interesting information and the kind of news that affects people’s lives at the Bay Area Multicultural Media Academy (BAMMA). The free, two-week summer journalism workshop trains aspiring young reporters like Mendez.
Cristina Azocar is director of the Center for Integration and Improvement in Journalism (CIIJ), the center that houses BAMMA. “When I started six years ago,” she says, “only six [public high] schools had newspapers. Now it’s down to only one.”
For Azocar, such paltry numbers are a warning sign. “If you don’t have a media that pays attention to you, then you’re not going to pay attention to it.” From an educator’s perspective, Azocar sees beyond the immediacy of the summer workshops to the future of journalism at large.
“Our goal is to advocate on behalf of the importance of journalism in high school, but it’s also to advocate on behalf of journalism in a democratic society,” she says. “Without journalism we don’t have an informed citizenry, and that’s really the only way you can have a democratic society.”
Where Did the Papers Go?
Journalism education is on the decline throughout the state of California. According to a 2003 San Francisco Chronicle article, while the number of public school students is on the rise, the number of students enrolled in journalism courses has declined.
Esther Wojcicki, an educator and high school journalism teacher based in Palo Alto, California, points the finger at flawed education policies. “The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) sounded good on paper in 2002,” Wojcicki recently wrote on The Huffington Post, “but in the past five years it has caused many journalism programs in high schools across the country to fold.”
“Journalism ends up being an enrichment class,” explains Paul Kandell, a journalism teacher at Palo Alto High School. “It’s listed as an elective, not a core English course that’s used to rate schools.”