This story was corrected Dec. 7, 2012. An explanation follows.
Let the tattling begin again at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School.
After pulling themselves out of more than $3,000 in debt, the Bethesda school’s student newspaper, The Tattler, will resume printing in December, said Marissa Sawicki, the paper’s co-editor-in-chief.
At the student paper’s largest fundraising event Thursday, Sawicki thanked the crowd of more than 200 for their help keeping the students’ voice alive.
The Tattler is safe for this year at least, but advisers and student business managers of papers countywide say they are having a hard time keeping their print product alive.
And what’s happening in Montgomery is happening nationwide, said Logan Aimone, executive director of the National Scholastic Press Association. Journalism programs are being cut, printing newspapers is more expensive and ad sales are declining.
“All of those factors point toward student advisers and students to make the decision to forgo printing and just move online,” Aimone said.
The cuts threaten not only student journalism, but also the community, Aimone said. Strong journalism programs support free speech, debate and education on issues, he said.
“If those platforms are not available, I pose the question: Is it stunting the growth of young people as they go into society — as they become parents, voters, workers,” Aimone said.
A student paper exists at all 25 county high schools, whether it’s printed, online or both, schools spokesman Dana Tofig said. Some are published by in-school courses and other schools have newspaper clubs.
And county school newspapers are recognized nationally. Silver Chips, the newspaper of Montgomery Blair High in Silver Spring, won the National Scholastic Press Association Pacemaker award this year, one of the most prestigious awards in scholastic journalism.
Last year, Silver Chips and Rockville High’s paper, The Rampage, were finalists for the award.
Printing costs at schools vary depending on the size of the paper, the color pages and other factors. Walt Whitman High spends $1,100 an issue; Montgomery Blair spends about $2,000.
Staff at many papers said they do not accept funds from the school system, citing journalistic integrity.
Without school system money, The Tattler was in the past still able to put out eight issues a year, adviser David Lopilato said. It costs about $700 to print 1,700 copies of the 12-page newspaper.
A fundraiser Thursday, “Polls, PACS & Pundits,” generated more than $2,000. The event featured reporters and editors from The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, as well as Rep. Chris Van Hollen, in a forum on campaign coverage.
Henry Schuster, a producer at CBS News’ 60 Minutes who participated in the forum, said the students do important work. His son is an editor at The Tattler.
“I can’t imagine a school without a paper, especially a paper like this one,” Schuster said. “A newspaper that is important enough to censor is important enough to support.”
Schuster said he was referring to last school year, when a school administrator confiscated issues because of an article.
Unlike other papers, the Rampage is growing; by four pages since last year, the paper’s staff adviser Jessica Nassau said. Their 5K fundraiser made about $4,400 this year, which will pay for about half of the year’s production costs, she said.
“The kids work really hard on it,” she said. “Part of being in a journalism class is learning how money is made and where the money comes from.”
Hannah Dario, business manager of Blueprint, the student newspaper at Springbrook High in Silver Spring, said it’s harder for her and other Springbrook students to raise money than it is for students in wealthier parts of the county because they have less funding support from parents.
The school has about 50 “patrons,” who donate money and receive a subscription, Dario said.
“Blake [High] is close by, and they have more patrons,” Dario said. “They are a richer school — I guess you could say. Their newspaper is bigger.”
Dario said she frequently visits and calls local businesses to try to get them to place an ad. Blueprint comes out once a month and it is normally about 12 pages.
If there aren’t enough ads, issues must be combined, Dario said.
“Its always hard to find ads because it is a bad economy right now, so most of the businesses I talk to say no,” Dario said. “But I just keep going, and eventually I get some.”
A strong local business community is very important, and staff at The Black and White, Walt Whitman High’s newspaper in Bethesda, has seen that support, said Michael Amrine, a business manager for the paper.
To increase readership and ad sales, The Black and White switched to a free model last school year, instead of charging students and staff per copy. The paper is now making a profit, Amrine said.
Silver Chips is able to fill its 32-page paper with eight pages of ads, said Joseph M. Fanning, the newspaper’s staff adviser. The students that make up Silver Chips’ business team must raise about $15,000 annually to print a paper every five weeks during the school year, Fanning said.
Fanning advises his students of different ways to earn the money, but he said even with a master’s in business administration in marketing, it is hard for him to find techniques that work. Advertisers tell the newspaper staff that they are relying more on social media, he said.
Dario said the Blueprint will continue to print at least throughout this year.
The paper’s editor-in-chief, Mihdi Asnan, said that the paper is an important part of the school.
“Everyone reads it,” Asnan said. “When issues come out, they sit in class reading it, and not really paying attention to anything else.”
Editor’s note: This story incorrectly stated the newspaper printing costs at Walt Whitman and Montgomery Blair high chools.