The print edition will live on for a Chicago high school newspaper thanks to notable alumnus and Playboy editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner.
In a letter sent last week, Hefner pledged to donate a total of $37,500 over the next five years — $7,500 a year — to pay for printing costs for the Steinmetz Star at Steinmetz College Prep in Chicago.
“His work on the school’s newspaper and yearbook were some of his most formative experiences; they played an instrumental role in inspiring the creative mind behind Playboy,” wrote Amanda Warren, executive director of the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation. “Hef believes strongly in encouraging student journalists and supporting their voices.”
The letter goes on to state that Hefner took great pride in being able to provide the paper with funding for the print edition over the past five years. The newspaper’s print edition was set to stop publishing at the end of this school year, as funding was set to run out.
According to an article by local news outlet DNAinfo.com, Steinmetz Star Adviser Sharon Schmidt said she and the staff are grateful for Hefner’s support of the newspaper.
“The professional printing we’re able to do, thanks to Mr. Hefner’s donation, inspires our student reporters to work on a professional level,” Schmidt told DNAinfo.com. “The newspaper staff and the readers in the Steinmetz community really value the Star, in large part because of Hef’s involvement.”
The donation comes after school Principal Stephen Ngo made headlines when he initially censored a news article on a change in the school bell schedule and then later threatened to eliminate the 81-year-old newspaper after the student reporter published the story on her personal blog.
In December, Ngo decided to postpone publication of the story until the January-February edition, directing students to conduct interviews with the school nurse and members of the local school council. When Schmidt presented a revised copy days later, Ngo decided to postpone the story again as he was too busy to review the article.
McKenzie Lacefield, the student reporter who wrote the story, then decided to publish the story on her personal blog. In addition, Schmidt also reported on the incident for the Substance News, an online education news site.
After Schmidt’s article was published online, Ngo sent out a late night email threatening to eliminate the 81-year-old newspaper.
“Scratch Journaism (sic) for next year. We will not be offering it anymore. There will be no more Steinmetz Star. I’m still deciding what to do with it for the second semester,” Ngo wrote in the email.
Ngo has since said he has no interest in removing the newspaper and wrote the email in an emotional state. Ngo said he never intended to kill the story, but wanted to allow the students to do more reporting on the topic.
Ultimately, the school bell schedule story ran in the January-February edition of the Steinmetz Star, along with a column from Ngo explaining his perspective.
“Throughout his life, Hef has personally fought to uphold the First Amendment so that all journalists — student and professional — would be guaranteed the same protections under the constitution,” Warren wrote in the letter announcing Hefner’s donation. “He and everyone here at the Hugh M. Hefner Foundation were pleased to hear that the recent censorship issue with the Star was resolved in a positive way.”
Schmidt told DNAinfo.com that Hefner’s support for the First Amendment served as an inspiration for the students when they decided to challenge Ngo’s censorship.
This past fall, the Hefner Foundation honored a college journalism professor with the 2015 award for First Amendment leadership in education. The North Dakota professor, Steve Listopad, was instrumental in securing the passage of the John Wall New Voices of North Dakota Act, which became law in August and protects student journalists’ rights to report without administrative censorship.
The North Dakota law’s success kickstarted a national New Voices movement with 20 states planning campaigns to introduce similar legislation.
In the Illinois state legislature, Democratic State Rep. Will Guzzardi introduced House Bill 5902 earlier this month that would protect high school student journalists’ right to exercise freedom of speech and freedom of the press in schools, whether or not the paper is paid for by the school or made as part of a class.