Student newspapers at Calif. community colleges hit by budget cuts

CALIFORNIA – Journalism programs and student newspapers at community colleges across the state of California face cuts this year.

Budget cuts are primarily to blame for the disappearing and shrinking programs, said Rich Cameron, the communications director and secretary for the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, a nonprofit dedicated to community college journalism in California.

The state has a budget deficit, and community colleges are facing cuts in every program, not just journalism.

“When you’re cutting classes in history and math, it makes sense you’d have to cut classes in journalism,” Cameron said.

There are currently about 60 to 65 student publications in California at the state’s 112 community colleges, Cameron said. About a third of community college papers have shut down since the recession started, and Cameron predicts another 10 publications could be gone by next year.

Three weeks before school started, San Jose City College had 10 students enrolled in The City College Times production class when it was cancelled. Farideh Dada, the paper’s adviser, convinced administrators to give her time to find students for the class, and eventually she found enough students to meet the 20-student minimum requirements.

“It is very surprising we were able to save this class,” Dada said.

Dada said she didn’t understand the reasons administrators gave her justifying the cancellation based on low enrollment.

“Because the type of articles that are published in the newspaper, it’s an ongoing battle between press and power,” Dada said, speaking generally about the natural tension between media and government.

“I don’t know what their reasons are, but I can’t really agree or understand the reasons they say low enrollment. That can’t be true.”

Cabrillo College has experienced cuts for the past four years, said Bradley Kava, the school’s dean of communications.

About a quarter of the college’s journalism classes have been cut, and the entire program has been on the chopping block as well, Kava said. Over the past five years, Cabrillo College’s English department has integrated the journalism program into its department and incorporated journalism classes as writing courses.

“Their faculty were willing to make sacrifices to save our program,” he said.

Kava said he feels he has administrators’ support, but that it can only go so far.

“But everything is so tight here with the cuts they have to make — it’s really frightening,” he said.

Other schools are not having the same luck. At San Diego Miramar College, the adviser shut down The Sage after 30 years when only two students enrolled in the class, according to an article in The San Diego City Times.

Antelope Valley College’s journalism program has been reduced to just two classes and its student newspaper won’t be publishing this year due to their adviser leaving, said Charlotte Forte-Parnell, dean of the language arts department.

The adviser at San Mateo College retired this fall as well after his newspaper production classes were cancelled. Ed Remitz acknowledged the classes had low enrollment but said he didn’t think administrators were receptive to suggestions he and editors gave that could have increased class sizes and made the paper more profitable.

Remitz and former editors Margaret Baum and Kayla Figard said the last two years have been tense between The San Matean staff and administrators.

The school has been restructuring its journalism program and created new classes that now overlap with the newspaper production class. Public records show members on the restructuring committee have complained about the paper’s quality and content.

Baum says community colleges like San Mateo will suffer without student papers.

“It was more about being a watchdog,” Baum said, describing the paper’s role on campus. “Now that there’s no newspaper there, there’s no one there. There’s no one to keep the school accountable for what it’s doing.”

In order to stay in Californian community colleges, journalism will need to be recognized as a skill applicable in multiple fields, said Mary Mazzocco, JACC’s president.

“I would like to see journalism recognized as a discipline that can teach some of those general education skills that community colleges are looking to give their students,” Mazzocco said.

By Bailey McGowan, SPLC staff writer. Sara Gregory contributed reporting. Contact McGowan by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.