In 2009, Justin Raisner became the Carlmont High School journalism advisor. No big deal right? Aside from the fact that there was no real journalism program at the school and his arrival came after the school’s newspaper was suspended by the administration for inappropriate content.
Before then, the journalism program was not a class, but rather a club and its interested and enthusiastic writers and editors had to make do without faculty advisement. Their goals were good, but they were students and, after an article was printed that was questionable in content, the newspaper was suspended. The San Francisco Peninsula Press Club, a coalition of media professionals, got involved and its board, of which I am a member, questioned why the school was without a newspaper advisor in the first place. Pat Gemma, then superintendent of the Sequoia Union High School District, made the commitment to provide the financing for an advisor to solidify the program into a class.
Five years after Raisner’s arrival, the Carlmont High School journalism program was recognized with a Pacemaker Award by the National Scholastic Press Association during the Spring 2014 National High School Journalism Convention in San Diego. The award was for the program’s website Scot Scoop News, which is written by students of all grade levels while the upper classes focus on print. Scot Scoop News started in 2010 and proves that keeping up with technology is an important aspect of journalism. Most student publications have a Web component that, while unthinkable 20 years ago, provides another set of challenges in the classroom when posting immediate news. But Scot Scoop News is obviously doing it well enough to be recognized nationally and while the credit should go to the students, it wouldn’t be able to without the district’s commitment to an advisor and the hard work that advisor puts in every day.
Journalism advisors often work behind the scenes and without credit, but it’s not easy work. There is youth and energy to corral, controversies with which to contend and politics between faculty and administration. The best advisors set the foundation of responsibility, communication and respect and allow students to find where their creativity takes them.
So credit should go to Raisner for taking a moribund program, injecting it with his own passion and directing the energy in the right place. The rewards may come in the form of recognition and awards, but they also come in witnessing those aha moments in young minds when they achieve something new and exciting through proper guidance.
People may say that journalism is a dying industry, but it’s not. And to be honest, I’m sick of hearing it from people who don’t see what amazing things are coming out from this next generation. There has never been more interest in the field, but that field is rapidly changing through advances in technology. There is now the ability to tell new stories in entirely new ways. And that’s a good thing.
As many of our schools move toward project-based learning, I highly recommend throwing journalism into that mix. Where else can students practice teamwork and problem-solving while also learning to write effectively, make a point and design a presentation that will make people want to read more? Journalism teaches the importance of community, compassion, creativity and collaboration. It also needs people like Raisner at the academic level to harness youthful energy and ideas into something with which the entire community can be proud. And he’s not one to sing his own praises, so that’s why I do so now.
Jon Mays is the editor in chief of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Jon on Twitter @jonmays.