Newspapers may be dying all over the world, but a passion for print still burns furiously at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, home to The Tattler, the award-winning student newspaper now in its 86th year of publication.
You can hear it in the voice of Marissa Sawicki, the paper’s senior editor-in-chief.
“The thing is that when you’re reading the paper, it’s tangible. It means so much more” than reading news online, Sawicki said. “Students here really grasp it.”
That’s the message that Sawicki and her fellow staffers have been delivering all fall as they continue their efforts to raise as much as $10,000 to pay for The Tattler’s printing costs throughout the school year.
The staff had decided this year to publish biweekly, greatly increasing recent years’ total annual production of five issues. But the students quickly learned that the journalism program couldn’t afford to print the newspaper that often, especially since the paper was already a couple thousands dollars in debt, according to adviser David Lopilato.
So the staff ceased production in mid-October and set about developing a new model to pay for the paper, including pursuing more advertising from local businesses and online donations. Previously, advertising, and donations from parents and the school’s foundation had helped pay the bills.
It costs about $700 to print a 2,000-copy edition. That’s about $300 more than the $525 than the Montgomery County Public Schools will provide annually to those high schools that apply for the funds. Printing biweekly would cost the newspaper about $1,400 a month.
“To raise $700 is not undoable. It’s just takes a lot of effort,” Lopilato said. “It’s a learning curve.”
The campaign received a huge boost this week when $2,000 in tickets were presold for Thursday night’s panel discussion on the media’s role in the 2012 presidential election. A good-sized crowd turned out to hear several top journalists and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland’s 8th District talk about the issue in the school cafeteria.
“Our words can shape the opinions of the people around us,” Sawicki told the crowd. “That’s why we write—to make a difference.”
Some adults have been amazed at the passion that B-CC students have for what many people consider a medium that’s passed its time. “It’s fascinating that a wired generation wants something tangible,” Lopilato said.
Janet Hook, a political correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, told the crowd Thursday night that it was “great” that students were so attached to their newspaper. “It’s a concrete manifestation of a community,” she said.
Tattler News Editor Zoe Young said she revels in the excitement when a new edition comes out. The paper is so popular among students that “teachers have to grab it out of their hands” when an edition is released, she said.
That’s because students find the news in the paper to be “more authentic” and “more believable” than news posted online, according to Sawicki and Young.
The paper’s fans won’t have long to wait to get their news fix. Two editions are ready to go and will be published in December, Lopilato said.
Meanwhile, he can’t help but be impressed by the drive and commitment of the paper’s staff this year.
“They just have a fire about them,” he said. “The most important thing is they’re proud of it.”