Part of the Columbian Media staff at Columbia High School.

Feb. 10, 2021  

Five newsrooms awarded SPJ Florida’s High School Newsroom Grant

SPJ Florida is pleased to announce that this year’s High School Newsroom Grants were awarded to:

  • The Reef at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier
  • Columbian Media at Columbia High School in Lake City
  • Dunedin High School Newspaper at Dunedin High School in Dunedin
  • The Talon at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs
  • Student newspaper at Blake High School in Tampa

With the board approving to double the budget of the grant, the committee was able to give out more grants to deserving newsrooms. This year, grants of $100 to $500 were allotted to the chosen schools, depending on their needs.

“This was my first time helping with the grant program and I loved every minute of it. It was both exciting and fulfilling to help young reporters who, much like their older colleagues, are often under-resourced,” said Giuseppe Sabella, who serves on the SPJ Florida board of directors. “High school newsrooms represent the future of the Fourth Estate. Cities and towns throughout Florida will soon look to these budding journalists for information about their communities and elected officials. I always look forward to supporting the students in their journey.”

Michael Malcom-Bjorklund, the adviser for Columbian Media at Columbia High School, shared how he inherited the news program with only $17. Even so, he wanted to help his students create a new television program that would cover events, including the high school’s sporting events that are so important to the students. The grant money will go towards purchasing new equipment for the students to learn TV production.

Part of the Columbian Media staff at Columbia High School.

“In Columbia County, residents support their CHS students and teams with passion, and this pandemic has cost them opportunities to watch their Tigers on the field, on the pitch, on the court, and on the stage,” Malcom-Bjorklund wrote. “We would absolutely love to have the opportunity to bring the Tigers to their homes and this is really only possible with your gracious support. Having the ability to broadcast games and events to those at home during the quarantine would truly be a blessing.”

Other applicants were also lacking the most basic for the newsrooms. At Blake High School in Tampa, journalism adviser Malorie Paine told the committee how  when she inherited the program, her students didn’t have SD cards or battery chargers for their cameras.

“We’re lacking many basic technology needs for our program,” she explained. “I’m rebuilding a program that has unfortunately been neglected for a long time. The students have a bright future, but we need a few things that are standing in our way of success.”

It can also be tough for new programs to get on their feet. Jennifer Webb, who teaches English and journalism at Coral Shores High School in Tavernier, started up The Reef with its inaugural staff of journalists. However, without professional cameras, they were relying on their cameras phones — and not every student is able to afford the most up-to-date smart phone. The grant will go towards the purchase of a camera to help the students take better photos and videos.

For older programs, they’ve seen a decline in ad revenue, especially during the pandemic. Tara Barbieri, the adviser for The Talon at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs, said the 16-page color issue is now completely online. With local businesses struggling this last year, it’s been hard to find sponsorship to keep The Talon afloat.

Staff members of The Talon who are attending school in person take a socially distanced photo.

“We have had to go entirely online. That, though, still comes with a price and even with the student donations that we were allowed to collect, I ended up paying for a good portion of the renewal fee,” Barbieri said. “With some additional funding, we might be able to publish a print edition to honor our seniors who are having anything but a typical senior year experience.”

Roseann Kuerzi at Dunedin High School can relate. Because of the pandemic, her newspaper and yearbook staff is attending school in person and online. The 28 students at school are currently sharing four desktop computer, which don’t work half the time.

“They need stability and reliable equipment so they can get out there, get the news, get the interviews — but they can’t,” she explained. “They feel like there is no use to ‘hurry’ since they hurry only to ‘wait.’ Many have jobs, a ton of homework and cannot do this from home. The kids are trying to bring normalcy and build a culture on campus but the lack of supplies is taking its toll on the kids. They are doing their best with the little they have.”

Thankfully, with the grant they are closer to purchasing more equipment for students to do their work at school.

This small sampling of high school newsrooms represents the norm across the state — journalism programs typically receive little to no funding, and teachers who are passionate about what they do often have to step up to keep things moving. With this grant program, SPJ Florida hopes to alleviate the stress of these advisers and their students and focus on learning more about journalism and its many different opportunities.

“Every year we have a tough time deciding who to give the money to, as there are so many programs who need the help,” said committee chairwoman, Christiana Lilly. “We encourage everyone who supports journalism and the First Amendment to help your local schools, as this is often where future journalists are born.”

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