EDITORIAL — Keep the first draft of history alive: Reinstate Payton’s acclaimed newspaper and broadcast classes

Students enrolled in the newspaper class would work in this hallway outside the media classroom to design the print newspaper editions.
(Photo by Bridget Galibois ‘24)

In February 2020, WBEZ reporter Adriana Cardona-Maguidad produced a story about the decline of Chicago public high school newspaper programs, titled “Keeping First Draft of History Alive in Chicago Public High Schools.” She visited Payton’s newspaper class to record a student pitch meeting, and in her story she said Payton was one of the few Chicago public high schools with a “thriving newspaper.” That fall, Payton’s newspaper and broadcast classes disappeared. 

According to Ms. Allison Gillick, the English department chair for the 2019-2020 school year, Payton’s English department originally had tentative plans to expand the newspaper class and have a second teacher take on the newspaper course as a prep period, due to the newspaper course’s popularity. Then, the original newspaper and broadcast teacher, Ms. Michelle Dueñas Mowery, left Payton in July. In September, students who had signed up for newspaper or broadcast found that they were enrolled in a new class called 21st Century Multimedia Lit. 

Principal Melissa Resh said she in consultation with the school programmer decided to combine the journalism classes into 21st Century Multimedia Lit, and the newly-hired teacher designed the curriculum. The class did not involve the newspaper or broadcast publications.

Principal Resh said no teachers in the English department wanted to teach the journalism classes that the previous newspaper and broadcast faculty advisor developed. The Paw Print is unclear on how English teachers could have expressed interest in taking on the journalism classes after the previous faculty advisor left Payton, or if there was an opportunity.

She also said that in the hiring process that followed, the English department looked for a teacher with a certification in journalism but did not find one. Chicago Public School teachers do not need a certification in journalism to teach journalism. They need to be “highly qualified to teach journalism,” according to the Illinois State Board of Education. Holding an English degree makes a teacher highly qualified. The previous journalism faculty advisor never held a certification in journalism. 

Assistant Principal Dashe Rowland and members of the English department were involved in the hiring process. According to Assistant Principal Rowland, she was told before the hiring process that the newspaper and broadcast course might become a new course due to “interest and feedback.” Also, she said she was told that a candidate with journalism experience would help with the “spirit of the possible new course.” She said she did not recall a certificate being mentioned. Assistant Principal Rowland was not involved in any meetings about closing the newspaper or broadcast classes, and she said the newspaper and broadcast classes may have been combined into a new course before she was involved in the hiring process. 

“I just want to say on behalf of the English department that as a department we did not know that journalism and broadcast would be closed,” Ms. Leslie Russell, a Payton English teacher, said at a Local School Council meeting on May 25. Multiple English teachers told the Paw Print they were unaware of the newspaper and broadcast course closing until they spoke with the new teacher. 

Normally, departments decide which courses to offer, and then the department hires teachers based on those courses. It is unusual for administrators outside of a department to make decisions about course offerings, and for an incoming teacher to design that new course’s curriculum. Ms. Russell said the “best practice” is to ask current staff members to teach unstaffed classes after a teacher leaves, or to hire a teacher specifically for those classes. The previous journalism faculty adviser was the first “long-time” English teacher to voluntarily leave Payton “in a number of years,” Ms. Russell said. However, when an English teacher was removed in the spring of 2018, she said teachers listed the courses they would prefer to teach, shifted some class assignments from previous years, and then the department hired a permanent teacher for classes that were still unstaffed. The teacher that was removed left earlier in the programming process than the previous faculty advisor had. However, Ms. Russell said it is “not normal” for a class to close because of a teacher leaving.

The Paw Print was unable to contact an English teacher who was offered to take over the class after the previous journalism faculty advisor left, if Payton English teachers received that opportunity. The Paw Print was also unable to contact an English teacher who was involved in the hiring process. 

Principal Resh said multiple sources told her the broadcast class did not translate well to remote learning, and that the newspaper course saw a decline in enrollment and could no longer fill two sections. Despite the original plan for expansion in the 2020-2021 school year, the Paw Print has only ever had one class section in Payton’s history. The Paw Print had 30 people on its staff for the 2019-2020 school year while 43 people signed up for the class. For the 2020-2021 school year, 27 students signed up for the newspaper class and 106 students signed up for the broadcast class.

Then, Principal Resh said she in consultation with the school’s programmer decided to combine the classes into a new class, 21st Century Multimedia Lit, to “speak to the spirit of both classes without a need for a certified journalism teacher and in a way that would translate to the remote setting.” The Paw Print is unclear on why the teacher would have needed a certification in journalism, since the only requirement for CPS teachers is an English degree in order to teach the newspaper and broadcast courses. Principal Resh said the incoming teacher then designed the new class. Payton’s newspaper and the broadcast program continued as student-led clubs for the 2020-2021 school year and were not part of the new class. 

Payton must reinstate its acclaimed newspaper and broadcast classes, reversing its contribution to the decline of student journalism. It is unlikely that these programs will be revived for the 2021-2022 school year, because students have already selected their courses for next year, but Payton must provide these courses for the 2022-2023 school year.

The Paw Print would like to note that it is not impossible to reintroduce the newspaper and broadcast classes for the 2020-2021 school year. Students who had signed up for the newspaper or broadcast class were placed into 21st Century Multimedia Lit this year, and the reverse is possible.

The English department plans to reinstate the newspaper and broadcast class for the 2022-2023 school year. The Paw Print hopes next year’s administration supports these efforts and ensures that these classes return. 

The Paw Print and Payton News Network teams faced this change before an unprecedented, historic school year. Classes were remote for the majority of the year, the anxiously anticipated 2020 election would happen in November, and over the summer, the bipoc.payton Instagram page began alleging teachers, students, and other Payton members of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia among other discriminatory acts, and the allegations continued coming forth for the duration of the school year. The pandemic restricted us, and the police abused their power towards Black people, Indigenous people, and people of color many times throughout the year. The list is incomplete. The Paw Print spent August and September regrouping after learning that the newspaper course was closed. They also used that time to strategize how they would train an entirely new team of staff writers, because the majority of the Paw Print’s previous staff writers either became editors or graduated. 

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for high schools to cut their journalism classes, but they typically disappear because of budget cuts. Cardona-Maguidad highlighted Mather high school as an example in her story. When the high school’s enrollment fell, the school’s budget decreased, and the high school’s newspaper class was “one of the first to see cuts.” The Chicago Tribune also faced financial obstacles this year when controversial hedge fund Alden Global Capital purchased Tribune Publishing, making the newspaper chain private, having them acquire loans totalling $278 million of debt for the previously debt-free paper, and installing Alden President Heath Freeman as CEO. Alden has a reputation as a “vulture” fund for aggressive cost-cutting to extract extra profit, and Tribune news staffers campaigned against the sale for a year.  

Newspapers around Chicago — and the country — are losing support. This trend troubles the Paw Print. It has almost become the status quo for newspapers to struggle. 

Payton’s journalism classes were not victims of a budget cut. If the publications continue as clubs, it is actually cheaper for the school to have them as classes. As clubs, the Chicago Teachers Union contract mandates the club sponsor for a “newspaper or similar publication” either has a 0.2, which means a 20% increase in their salary, or a release period, meaning the teacher would teach one fewer class and use the extra time to support the publication. Neither the Paw Print sponsor nor the PNN sponsor received those benefits this year. The Paw Print sponsor will have a release period next year. 

Payton historically has had one section of the newspaper class and two sections of the broadcast class each year. As a class, each section would have 180-270 minutes of instructional time in a typical five-day week. Students could use that time to pitch ideas, produce stories, work with peers, and get advice from editors, executive producers and the faculty advisor. During remote learning this school year, the Paw Print met two to four times a week during enrichment and during one seminar period. Remote learning allowed editors the flexibility to schedule meetings even when this year’s faculty advisor was unavailable. 

In a normal year, any club would be lucky to meet twice per week during enrichments in addition to during a seminar period. More realistically, because of teacher schedules, a club may be able to meet once a week during enrichments — if there is school on that day. For example, if a club meets on Monday, but there is a holiday or schoolwide enrichment that day, then the club might not meet at all that week. As a club, Payton’s publications are not guaranteed to meet each week. The Paw Print and PNN require that valuable time to produce timely content and keep members on top of current events in and outside of this school. The Paw Print in particular requires that time to develop print issues. There may be ways to sidestep some scheduling conflicts, but even if the Paw Print is lucky enough to meet twice a week during enrichments, writers could have up to 188 minutes together per week on seminar weeks and 98 minutes on non-seminar weeks, if the team meets during both enrichments. If the publication meets once a week during enrichments, it would have at most 139 minutes during seminar weeks and 49 minutes, maybe, on non-seminar weeks. 

Compared to the time the Paw Print and PNN would have as an official class, this significant decrease gives the student leaders and faculty advisors much less opportunity to support student journalists and organize these publications.

The Paw Print also saw a significant decrease in its staff. In 2018-2019, the Paw Print had 36 members, and in 2019-2020, the Paw Print had 30 members. This year, the Paw Print had 12 consistent members, including the four editors. Twenty-seven students signed up for the 2020-2021 class. From the 2017-2018 school year to the 2020-2021 school year, over 100 students sign up for broadcast each cycle, while about 60 students are allowed in the class. This year, PNN had 10 consistent members, including four executive producers.

With more staff, the Paw Print and PNN could have covered more of the stories that the publications regretfully missed in this historic year. Nothing can recover the past, but restoring the newspaper and broadcast class would help these publications maintain the level of reporting they’ve held in previous years. 

As a class, PNN produced daily broadcasts and the Paw Print produced at least five print newspaper editions per year. As clubs, PNN produced weekly broadcasts and the Paw Print published 38 articles in total during the school year and the summer of 2020

The Paw Print was lucky to work with many underclassmen this school year. Should the class return, the Paw Print could run a club adjacent to the class, where students outside of the class — including underclassmen and anyone unable to fit the class in their schedule — could work on articles. Payton has had a newspaper club in addition to the class in the past. 

The newspaper and broadcast class offered students a unique community with plenty of memories, as well as a path to a potential career. “I owe so much to the Paw Print and Ms. Mowery for where I am now working at NBC News,” Former Paw Print Co-Editor-in-Chief Matthew Mata ‘16 said. “It allowed me opportunities no [Advanced Placement class] could ever, because in the field of journalism your curiosity can’t exist or be explored within the walls of a classroom.” Mata works as an assignment editor at NBC News.

Former Paw Print Co-Editor-in-Chief Allison Cho ‘17 works as a Multiplatform Editor at the Washington Post. “[The Paw Print] pushed me out of my comfort zone to get involved with the community in an entirely new way and write stories that hopefully would make a difference,” Cho said. “I found a passion for all aspects of journalism, not just writing, and this solidified my decision to continue pursuing a career in the field.” 

She said the class made her realize the “heft responsibility” of student journalists, and being an editor at the Paw Print was her first experience with production, editing, maintaining style, and other skills that she said are a “big part” of her current job.

Former Co-Editor-in-Chief Sam Gonzalez Kelly ‘14 worked as a breaking news reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times for two years, and now works as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. His beat, or specialty, is covering “Houston’s vibrant and diverse communities” through Report for America, meaning he works to “uplift voices and perspectives” mainstream media traditionally overlooks. “I can say with no hesitation that the single greatest reason I’m employed doing something I love is because of Ms. Mowery’s journalism class and the years I spent at the Paw Print,” he said. “I got to work at my hometown paper, the Chicago Sun-Times, out of college because I wrote clearly, knew the city and understood the fundamentals of journalism. That was the Paw Print, and the Paw Print was my only experience.”  He said he didn’t major in journalism, attend graduate school, or have summer internships at any “prestigious” newspapers. 

“My time at the Paw Print allowed me to explore talents and passions I didn’t know I had with the reassurance that Ms. Mowery was there to support me if I ever needed a hand,” he said. “She may not be at Payton anymore, but the vigor with which the student journalists at the Paw Print continue to approach their work tells me all I need to know. Namely, that the paper is a place where students can go to discover their abilities and make a difference while doing so, and in the process build up an arsenal of skills that will be important to them no matter what career path they choose.” Many people with journalism backgrounds pursue careers in related fields, like marketing or law, but the research and communication skills people gain from their time as journalists are applicable to many other careers. 

“It’s critical that a thriving student paper exists, because journalism lends itself to indirect power and representation on behalf of the school community,” Mata said. “Without it, the status quo can’t be challenged and we only become a stronger, more inspiring society when it is challenged. There is an assumption that the stories coming from a high school newspaper may be routine coverage, but the reason the Paw Print continues to be award-winning is due to the standards Ms. Mowery expected from its editorial staff to always challenge the narrative.” 

In 2020, the Paw Print and PNN won 38 awards at the Illinois Journalism Education Association’s state contest. The Paw Print won 1st place for best hybrid publication and 1st place for best overall publication. This year, the Paw Print and PNN won 17 awards, including the Paw Print winning 2nd place for best hybrid publication. 

Three Paw Print editors and two PNN executive producers plan on contributing to their college’s news publications. One editor and one executive producer plan on majoring in journalism at Northwestern University and the University of Texas at Austin, respectively. Another editor who specialized in reviewing entertainment plans on majoring in cinema studies at New York University. 

“I know that we in English think that newspaper and broadcast are a fundamental part of our curriculum,” Ms. Russell said at a Local School Council meeting on May 25. “Our past journalism teacher was the vice president of the Scholastic News Association. Our students win 30 or more journalism awards just about every year, and newspaper and broadcast have historically been a space where BIPOC students have felt a sense of belonging, a sense of nurturance. And I’m thinking of two Black boys in particular who were marginalized in much of the rest of our school program, who flourished in journalism, who found their voice and who were loved and supported there.” The Paw Print experienced a significant decrease in its staff’s diversity this year. PNN also experienced a decrease in its staff’s diversity. 

The newspaper and broadcast class also were one of the few classes where diverse learners could attend with general education students.

Students can record podcasts in the media classroom’s soundproof box.
(Photo by Edgar Diaz ‘21)

Professional news outlets produced at least 15 stories about Payton’s students, teachers, and administration this school year. Payton hosted a news conference with Mayor Lori Lightfoot. U.S. News named us the No. 4 high school in the nation. People care about what happens at Payton. 

Student publications report on its school best. Paw Print and PNN staff interact with Payton community members almost every day. Decisions are made inside and outside of this school all the time, and these student journalists personally know the Payton teachers and students affected by and involved in these events. 

Payton needs a strong student press to follow up on the stories that Chicago and the nation care about, and to find more stories that professional outlets likely won’t uncover without an inside perspective. In years past, writers have covered allegations of inappropriate behavior, the impacts of the longest Chicago Teachers Union Strike in decades, and meaningful profiles of community members. The Paw Print and PNN will continue optimistically as clubs for the 2021-2022 school year. 

The Paw Print intends to publish at least three print editions. As a class, the Paw Print would aim to publish at least five. Print editions are often the highlight of a Paw Print team member’s time with the publication, and team leaders will have to work harder than in years past to find the significant amount of time it takes to develop these issues, but the Paw Print look forward to producing these stories. A community member seeing their name in print is something special, and the Paw Print will continue providing this experience to the Payton community. 

This year, the Paw Print and PNN exercised resiliency. Both publications trained an entirely new staff this year. Both publications opened themselves to underclassmen members where only upperclassmen could enroll in the class, and both publications became more self-sufficient and found inspiration to continue because of the new obstacles. All of the lesson plans, meeting agendas, and publications were student designed. The publications’ leadership teams have trained next year’s leaders to administer these lessons. The Paw Print and PNN welcome any Payton English teacher interested in restarting these classes, and will gladly share all the resources we’ve developed this year. 

Reinstating the newspaper and broadcast classes that focus on Payton’s student media would ensure this school’s publications continue for many years to come. It’s essential that they do. It benefits the school financially after a controversial budget season. Having classes ensures these teams more time and staff to produce stories, and the Paw Print hopes it will restore the valuable community that members have felt in years past.

High schools around the country are withdrawing their support for student publications. The Payton Paw Print and PNN hope Payton will once again become the school that challenges that status quo by reinstating the school’s beloved newspaper and broadcast classes in the 2022-2023 school year.

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