RACE AS A FACTOR IN STUDENT PARTICIPATION IN HIGH SCHOOL JOURNALISM
By Christopher Callahan
College of Journalism
University of Maryland
College Park, Md. 20742
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Christopher Callahan is assistant dean of the College of Journalism at
the University of Maryland in College Park and executive director of the
Maryland Scholastic Press Association.
RACE AS A FACTOR IN STUDENT PARTICIPATION IN H.S. JOURNALISM
ABSTRACT: Past research has found that participation on high school
newspapers is often the catalyst that leads to journalism careers. This study
explores whether minority participation in high school journalism is lower than
participation by white students, a condition that would reduce the pool of
potential professional minority journalists. The study found that race was a
predictor in both whether a school had a newspaper and which students were
leaders of the publications.
In 1978, the U.S. newspaper industry set an ambitious goal of
creating newsrooms that reflect the racial diversity of the country before the
year 2000. Since the American Society of Newspaper Editors launched its Year
2000 strategy, the percentage of minority journalists has inched upward each
year, from 4 percent in 1978 to 10.5 percent in 1994. But the proportion of
minorities in the overall population has gone up at the same time, from 17
percent in 1978 to 26 percent in 1994. And the Census Bureau projects that
minorities will make up more than 28 percent of the U.S. population by the turn
of the century. With less than four years to go, it seems likely the
newspaper industry will fall far short of its racial parity goal. In fact, the
industry is doing little more than keeping up with the growth of diversity in
the country. (See Figure 1 and Table 1)
[--- ??? Graphic Goes Here ---]
Percentage of Minorities in U.S.
Percentage of Minorities/Newsroom
(source: U.S. Census Bureau and American Society of Newspaper Editors)
This failure comes despite aggressive minority recruitment programs
at some of the nation's largest and most influential newspaper companies. Many
of these programs are aimed at the professional level through minority-targeted
training programs, job fairs, direct recruiting and retention programs. Others
focus on minority-based scholarships and internships for college students. Few
newspaper diversity programs, however, target high school students. Yet there is
substantial research literature that indicates participation in high school
newspapers is a major factor in a student's decision to become a professional
journalist. And other studies show that most people make their career choices
before they get to college.
This study looks at high school newspapers to probe whether there are
racial inequities at the high school newsroom level that could be hindering the
industry's diversity goals by reducing the natural pool of potential
professional journalists. The study proposes two research questions:
* Is the racial makeup of high schools an indicator of whether a
school will have a newspaper?
* Is race a factor in which students run high school publications?
The study of high school journalism reaches back to the beginnings of
mass communication research. Grant Hyde wrote about scholastic journalism in the
second ever issue of The Journalism Bulletin (later Journalism Quarterly) more
than 70 years ago, noting "the amazingly rapid growth and spread of the teaching
of `something like journalism' in high schools throughout the country." But
despite the deep-rooted history, the body of literature that has developed on
high school journalism is rather thin, especially on the linkage between high
school newspapers and race.
Arnold reported in 1993 that there was "no research on the plight of
the inner city school." Her study of inner city high schools showed 85
percent of the schools surveyed had newspapers. But that study was conducted
largely by mail questionnaires to school principals. The response rate was 55.8
percent of the 267 selected in a random sample. There was, however, a strong
possibility of a response bias since principals at schools without newspapers
might have been less likely to fill out a questionnaire about the topic of high
There is little research even on the general question of how many
U.S. high schools have newspapers. Dvorak found that 83.1 percent of U.S. high
schools surveyed have newspapers or newsmagazines. But the mail
questionnaire, addressed to "journalism educator," also seems subject to a
strong response bias for schools without a "journalism educator." The response
rate was 44 percent.
Taken together, the Dvorak and Arnold studies suggest no difference
between inner-city high schools and high schools in general.
The research literature on the association between high school
newspapers and the profession is much richer. The most significant work was done
in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when researchers were concerned about the
under-enrollment of journalism schools and the dominance of high school
newspapers by female students. In Weigle's survey of college freshmen who were
high school newspaper editors, 10 percent said they planned to enter
professional journalism. Lubell's survey of 1,089 high school delegates
attending a national scholastic press convention found that 29 percent were
considering "some form of journalism or writing" career, and another 10 percent
remained undecided. Kimball and Lubell's follow up study of 1,500 high school
student journalists attending four scholastic press conventions found that
journalism was the top career choice of boys (20 percent) and the second choice
of girls (22 percent; teaching was 31 percent).
Cranford found that participation in the high school newspaper was
the most often cited reason why 66 University of Nebraska students enrolled in
journalism. Similarly, Fosdick and Greenberg found that participation in
high school publications was the most prevalent single factor cited by
University of Wisconsin journalism students for majoring in journalism.
More recent research has found the link between high school
newspapers and the profession remains strong. Dodd, Tipton and Sumpter found
that 63 percent of University of Florida journalism majors worked on their high
school newspaper, and 21 percent cited the newspaper or publication adviser as
the most significant influence on their decision to major in communications.
Most of the studies looked at either high school journalists'
aspirations or the influence of high school newspaper work on choice of college
major. Little research has been conducted with the equation reversed - looking
at contemporary professional journalists to measure the effect of high school
journalism on their career choice. Neither Weaver and Wilhoit nor Johnstone,
et al, looked at high school newspaper experience in their major studies of
the backgrounds of U.S. journalists. An exception was a questionnaire mailed to
75 professional editors by Forrester. Of the 52 respondents, 35 said their high
school journalistic experience influenced their career choice. A larger
study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors revealed that 55 percent of
the 1,210 working journalists surveyed from 72 newspapers worked on high school
Getting students interested in journalism while they are still in
high school is especially important because most students have made their career
decisions by the time they enter college. More than 75 percent of minority
high school students surveyed said they were fairly or very sure of their career
decisions. Furthermore, Becker and Park discovered that blacks were more
likely than any other group to decide early on careers in journalism. Their
study of college graduates who decided on journalism careers showed that 62.4
percent of blacks surveyed decided on journalism before college, compared to
50.4 percent of whites. Dodd, et al, found that 50 percent of college
journalism students surveyed made their career decisions while still in high
school or elementary school, and an ASNE survey found that 39 percent of editors
surveyed made their career choice before college.
To avoid the response bias suspected in previous studies of high
school newspapers, a telephone questionnaire was selected as the survey
instrument. Maryland high schools were selected to provide data for the Maryland
Scholastic Press Association. The state roughly reflects the racial breakdown of
the nation (29.4 percent minority population compared to 24.4 percent
nationally). Maryland also has a diverse demographic mix: a major city
(Baltimore), white majority suburbs, black majority suburbs, white majority
rural areas and black majority rural areas.
A list of public high schools was obtained from the Maryland State
Department of Education. Vocational and special-needs schools were eliminated
since the study was concerned with students who might go to college and
eventually become journalists. The remaining 160 high schools became the study
sample. A computer printout of the racial breakdowns of the 160 schools was
obtained from the State Department of Education.
The survey was implemented in a two-stage process by graduate
students in Dr. Katherine McAdams' research methods course at the University of
Maryland during November and December 1995. First, school administrators were
asked simply whether the school currently published a newspaper. With multiple
follow-up telephone calls, a 100 percent response rate on the first section was
eventually obtained. For schools that had newspapers (n=137), the newspaper
adviser was contacted and interviewed. The response rate for the adviser section
of the questionnaire was 76.6 percent (n=105). Advisers were asked about their
newspapers (number of issues per year, number of pages per issue); their own
backgrounds (race, gender, college degrees and majors, journalism field
experience, journalism educational experience, years teaching); their experience
as an adviser (years as adviser, compensation for advising the publication,
satisfaction with their adviser's role on a 1-5 Likert scale); and their
student-journalists (race and gender of top six masthead editors).
The study found that 85.6 percent of all 160 non-vocational,
non-special needs public high schools in Maryland publish student newspapers
(n=137). That closely reflects Dvorak's national findings of 83.1 percent. But
the results show wide discrepancies strongly associated
with race - specifically white and black. One hundred ten of the 120
white plurality schools published student newspapers (91.7 percent), while only
27 of the 40 black plurality schools had papers (67.5 percent). See Figure 2.
[--- ??? Graphic Goes Here ---]
[--- ??? Graphic Goes Here ---]
The mean of whites at schools with newspapers was 66.3 percent, but
only 43.3 percent at the schools without newspapers. The mean for blacks at
schools with newspapers was just 26.2 percent, but was 54.2 percent at schools
that did not publish a paper. (See Figure 3).
[--- ??? Graphic Goes Here ---]
first bars=black students
second bars=white students
When race was broken down by white plurality schools and non-white
plurality schools and compared to the nominal newspaper variable (yes or no),
significance was found at the p<.001 level. A strong statistical association
(.86957) was found with a lambda analysis of the percentage of black students at
each school as the independent variable and the nominal newspaper category (yes
or no) as the dependent variable. A similarly strong lambda association was
found when the percentage of white students was the independent variable
(.78261). No significant associations were found when Asian, Hispanic and Indian
student percentages were tested.
The findings stand in stark contrast to Arnold's study, which
concluded that 85 percent of inner-city high schools published student
newspapers. This study found that more than half of Baltimore's 15
non-vocational, non-special needs high schools had no newspaper. And of the
schools that did have newspapers, one published a single four-page edition
annually and another published four one-page papers. The mean of pages
published annually by Baltimore schools was 25.6, which is less than one-third
the statewide mean of pages published annually. In Prince George's County, a
densely populated, majority black area just out of the District of Columbia, six
of the 14 high schools had no newspapers. See Table 2.
H.S. With Paper
White Students (Pct.)
Black Students (Pct.)
Asian Students (Pct.)
Hispanic Students (Pct.)
Indian Students (Pct.)
(source: Maryland State Department of Education, 1994-1995 enrollment,
and telephone survey conducted November-December, 1995)
Among schools that had newspapers, racial disparities also were
found. The mean of news pages per year (the product of issues per year and mean
of pages per issue) was 84.8 at white plurality schools, compared to 70.2 at
black plurality schools.
The leadership of the school newspapers also had a higher percentage
of whites than would be expected. The study asked advisers to identify the race
of their top six editors, as listed on the masthead of the most recent edition.
These schools (n=97) had a white population mean of 69.7 percent, but 80 percent
of the top editing positions were held by white students. Conversely, blacks
made up 22.3 percent of the student population, but only 14.2 percent of the top
There also are few same-race role model advisers for minority
students. The study showed that only 3.8 percent of the advisers surveyed (n=4)
were minorities. That is similar to Dvorak's national findings of 4.7
percent. Comparatively, 13.1 percent of all high school teachers are
minorities. The survey also showed that only 8.6 percent of the Maryland
advisers majored in journalism and 60 percent never took a journalism course.
Seventy-seven percent never had any professional journalism experience.
In recent years and with increasing fervor, the newspaper industry
has been stepping up its efforts to diversify newsrooms to make them look as
diverse as the country. The efforts are genuine, largely because of economic
realities: newspapers' potential audience is growing more diverse, and in order
to capture that growing market papers need reporters and editors who bring those
backgrounds to the news-making process. Yet it seems the efforts are muted at
least in part by a rather small pool of people of color who are interested in
journalism careers. Editors seem more and more to be fighting over the same
people. Following the Unity '94 conference in Atlanta, which for the first time
joined together the four major ethnic journalism groups (National Association of
Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American
Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association),
recruiting editors spent the next six months counting how many new minority
journalists they hired away from other papers and how many of their own minority
staffers they lost to competitors. And the problem is especially large for
smaller newspapers that have to lure journalists to their small towns with fewer
dollars. Forty-five percent of all U.S. dailies still do not have any minorities
on their staffs.
The newspaper industry has not ignored the potential of recruiting
potential journalists from the high school ranks. There are numerous workshops
and seminars for minority high school journalists around the country. The Dow
Jones Newspaper Fund has been sponsoring workshops for high school and college
journalism teachers at historically black schools since 1964. The Detroit
Free Press publishes a page from local high school newspapers each week, and The
Freedom Forum has a journalist-in-residence in the District of Columbia public
school system. But such activist newspaper programs are the exception rather
than the rule. Newspaper companies have spent most of their time and energy on
professional-level and, secondarily, college-level recruiting of minorities.
Those efforts, however, have done and will continue to do little to
expand the pool of aspiring journalists in minority communities. A partnership
of local newspapers, journalism schools and philanthropic organizations could do
just that by creating top-flight newspapers in minority high schools around the
country and establishing journalism school scholarships for the best of those
 James B. King, "Minorities: From Now Till 2000 A.D.," ASNE
Bulletin (1978): 10-11.
 Cornelius F. Foote Jr., "Minority, Total Newsroom Employment
Shows Slow Growth, 1994 Survey Says," ASNE Bulletin (April/May 1994): 20-25.
 U.S. Census Bureau, Statistical Abstract of the United States
1994 (Washington: Bureau of the Census).
 Grant M. Hyde, "Journalism in the High School," Journalism
Bulletin 2 (1925): 1-9.
 Mary Arnold, "Inner City High School Newspapers: An Obituary?"
paper presented at annual meeting of the Association for Education in Journalism
and Mass Communication (Aug. 11-14, 1993).
 Arnold, "Inner City High School Newspapers: An Obituary?"
 Jack Dvorak, Larry Lain and Tom Dickson, Journalism Kids Do
Better: What Research Tells Us About High School Journalism, (Bloomington, Ind.:
ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication, 1994).
 Clifford F. Weigle, Influence of High School Journalism on
Choice of Career, Journalism Quarterly 34 (1957): 39-45.
 Samuel Lubell, "High School Students' Attitudes Toward
Journalism as a Career," Journalism Quarterly 36 (1959): 199-203.
 Penn T. Kimball and Samuel Lubell, "High School Students'
Attitudes Toward Journalism as a Career: II," Journalism Quarterly 37 (1960):
 Robert J. Cranford, "When Are Career Choices For Journalism
Made?" Journalism Quarterly 37 (1960): 422-425.
 James A. Fosdick and Bradley S. Greenberg, "Journalism as
Career Choice: A Small-Sample Study," Journalism Quarterly 38 (1961): 380-382.
 Julie E. Dodd, Leonard Tipton and Randall S. Sumpter, "High
School Journalism Experiences Influence Career Choices," Communication:
Journalism Education Today (Spring 1991): 26-28.
 David H. Weaver and G. Cleveland Wilhoit, The American
Journalist, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986).
 John Johnstone, Edward Slawski and William Bowman, The
Newspeople (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976).
 Michael A. Forrester, "High School Journalism Influences
Professionals," Communication: Journalism Education Today (Fall 1985): 12-14.
 Dodd, Lipton and Sumpter, "High School Experiences Influence
 Judee K. Burgoon, Michael Burgoon, David B. Buller, Ray Coker
and Deborah A. Coker, "Minorities and Journalism: Career Orientations Among High
School Students," Journalism Quarterly 64 (Summer/Autumn 1987): 434-443.
 Burgoon, et al, "Minorities and Journalism."
 21 A study by Lee B. Becker and Eunkyung Park commissioned for
The Freedom Forum for its book Death by Cheeseburger: High School Journalism in
the 1990s and Beyond (Arlington, Va.: Freedom Forum, 1994).
 Dodd, et al, "High School Journalism Experiences Influence
 1990 U.S. Census.
 23 Dvorak, Journalism Kids Do Better, 90-91.
 24 Dvorak, Journalism Kids Do Better, 90.
 26 Foote, "Minority, Total Newsroom Employment Shows Slow
Growth, 1994 Survey Says."
 27 Mary Arnold, "When It All Began: Journalism Minority
Recruiting & High School Students," paper presented at the annual meeting of the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (Montreal, Aug.