Paper Tigers

November 01, 2000 5 min read

The votes are in, and Robin Gibson Sawyer, an English and journalism teacher and the adviser to the Sound to Sea newspaper at Manteo High School in North Carolina’s Outer Banks region, is the 2000 National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year. Each fall, the Dow Jones Newspaper Fund, a foundation that supports journalism education, awards the title to an outstanding journalism instructor. It’s quite an honor, especially considering the average tenure of a school newspaper adviser is two-and-a-half years. “We’ve got a tough job, and I’m not sure which is more difficult—discovering truth or teaching people to live by it,” Randy Swikle, the 1999 title-holder, told the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association last fall.

Advisers who encourage student reporters to pursue important, investigative stories about school issues do so in a censorial climate. In its 1988 Hazelwood vs. Kuhlmeier decision, the Supreme Court case ruled that school-sponsored publications are not “forums for public expression,” giving school administrators the right to quash stories at will. Although six states—Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, and Massachusetts—have since amended the law to permit student journalists to print any story that’s not libelous, the publishing rights of school newspaper staffs in most states are limited. It’s no wonder that many student scribes are bypassing the school newspaper experience and self-publishing articles on the Internet—in the process, missing out on the creative and ethical guidance a knowledgeable adviser can provide. Clearly, journalism teachers who can rally 21st-century students around a courageous school paper are more valuable than ever.

Following are five papers with top-notch advisers. Four are led by National High School Journalism Teacher of the Year award winners or finalists from past years; the fifth is a middle school paper that regularly beats high school entries in state and national competitions.


School: Mexico High School, an 800-student public school in rural Missouri.

Advisor: A part-time publication teacher and public information coordinator for the school district, Kathy Craghead heads up Mexico’s paper and yearbook. A member of the national board of the Journalism Education Association, Craghead also contributes to the Dow Jones Adviser Update, Leadership Magazine, and other publications.

Format: An eight-page, black-and-white tabloid; published as an insert in the local Mexico Ledger and delivered every third Friday to 10,000 readers.

Breaking News: A 21-year-old student comes back to Mexico High after freshman-year expulsion for bringing a gun to school; local businesses hire students.

On The Record: Student Editor in Chief Misty Duchesne knows what it takes to be a good Advisor: “Miss Craghead ... has been there to help when I need her but also lets me learn and edit the paper on my own.”


School: Granite Bay High, a 1,900-student school in the suburbs of Sacramento, California.

Advisor: Karl Grubaugh—journalism, economics, and government teacher—has led the Gazette since its birth in 1998. His own journalism career includes 15- plus years of free-lance and full-time reporting and editing. He currently works part time as a copy editor at the Sacramento Bee.

Format: A 20-page broadsheet, black-and-white newspaper; published monthly.

Breaking News: Special education; marijuana use; binge drinking.

Hard-Hitting Headlines: “Let’s Talk About Sex"; “Stressed Out.”

On The Record: Grubaugh worries that advisers are ill-prepared to handle the politics of teenage journalism: “So many newspaper advisers I see at conferences are rookie teachers who took on the newspaper as a condition of their English teaching job. And you end up right in the crossfire—you either become an advocate for student press rights or you cave to the pressure to put out PR puffery and then fail to inspire kids.”


School: Emmaus High School, a 2,220-student public school in a Pennsylvania suburb near Allentown.

Advisor: J.F. Pirro has taught at Northwestern University’s National High School Journalism Institute and Penn State’s Summer Journalism Workshop. A free-lance writer specializing in sports, he’s also been published in 75-plus regional and national magazines and dozens of dailies.

Format: A 30-page, black-and-white tabloid, boasting a bright magazine-like cover and peppered with color photos and graphics; published six times a year.

Breaking News: Emmaus High’s lack of diversity; students living with diabetes; the stress facing high school athletes.

Hard-Hitting Headlines: “Malevolent Men"; “Bikini Blowout.”

On The Record: Pirro, a 14-year Stinger veteran, contends: “There are not too many adults left in this political world who will stand up for kids. That’s what it means to be an adviser.”


School: Lakewood High School, less than 10 miles from Cleveland.

Advisor: John Bowen, journalism and social studies teacher at LHS for 30 years and a part-time journalism instructor at Kent State University, is a member of the board of directors of the Student Press Law Center. His freelance photography credits include Northern Ohio Live magazine.

Format: A 30-page, black-and-white magazine-style publication featuring exciting graphics and photos; printed monthly.

Breaking News: Internet filters; Ohio’s writing proficiency tests; anniversary coverage of the Kent State shootings.

Hard-Hitting Headlines: “Finding the Cost of Freedom"; “Battle Against Cockroaches Never Ends.”

On The Record: Although we were unable to reach Bowen for comment, Mexico High’s Craghead was eager to talk about the contributions of her co-member on the national board of the JEA: He’s “the standard-bearer for scholastic press rights,” she says; he “has led the fight for years, and has tremendous knowledge about student rights and the First Amendment.”


School: York Suburban Middle School, housing 662 6th-8th graders in southeastern Pennsylvania, less than 30 miles from Harrisburg.

Advisor: District reading specialist and study skills teacher Ernest Thompson has manned the Trojan Times’ presses since 1980. Although his prior journalism experience consists of just one undergraduate class, he’s famous for molding middle schoolers into muckrak-ers: York’s principal jokingly calls the paper’s staff of reporters “Sixty Minutes” because they like to dig deeply into controversial topics.

Format: A 12-page, black-and-white paper with no advertising; published four times a year.

Breaking News: Local high school seniors intern at York Suburban Middle School; surfing the Internet; Pokèmon.

Hard-Hitting Headlines: “Safety Rules"; “Should Girls Wrestle on the Boys Team?”

On The Record: The dedicated Thompson confesses, “When the principal asked me to take over [the paper], I naively agreed and have stayed on ever since.”

—Jennifer Pricola