For the members of the Tiger Newspaper staff at South Pasadena High School, the past year-plus of a pandemic that has forced them to do their schooling at home has made their journalism class and project all the more interesting, if not frustrating.
Now back in the classroom on a limited basis, the dedicated crew of students aims to crank out an actual printed edition of their monthly publication, which would serve as a hopeful send-off for the seniors whose work for this year has been all-PDF and all-online. They are also hoping to continue the momentum from the Silver Crown award the publication just earned for its 2019-20 run from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association as they prepare for the competition for the current academic year.
“It was definitely really cool to receive this award,” said senior Catherine “Cat” Flores, who is editor-in-chief of Tiger. “We were able to reflect on our past work and it reminded us what a great newspaper we are.”
In the CSPA’s 97th convention in March, Tiger earned its fourth Silver Crown in 25 years, with the publication and its social media being lauded for their “high standard of journalism, especially during a very difficult year,” according to the South Pasadena Unified School District. The publication’s staffers were also recognized for transitioning to remote learning while continuing to provide “important and timely information” during the onset of the pandemic, the district said.
The publication was listed under the “hybrid news” category.
Continuing to function in a remote model throughout this school year has served as an interesting exercise, Flores said, as it has “allowed us to explore different types of coverage and the different ways in which we can make the paper more accessible to people.” That being said, she conceded that she and others have missed the typical camaraderie that comes with being in the same room, excited or stressed out about the same thing.
“A really big part of what makes Tiger Tiger is that we’re able to bond a lot when we work in person,” she said in a recent interview via Zoom. “Obviously we don’t have that same opportunity because of the pandemic. It’s also harder to boost that morale because it feels like there’s not as much of a reward.”
One area the team has become more practiced in is being more “live” with its news, particularly on its website content. In this way, they said they’ve been able to mostly avoid the time-stopping realization that an error made its way into the printed version.
“It has given us a lot of room to make up for our mistakes,” said Christine Mao, the online managing editor. “We’ve had to put a little more effort into communicating with everyone.”
In an era where newspapers and news media in general are pivoting to “hyper-local” coverage, Tiger has adopted the strategy in a literal sense — focusing its hard news on the school, its students and the district — while also dedicating space for political and social analysis as it relates to South Pasadena. Its writers are also called upon to lend their opinions in a variety of columns each issue.
“It’s always that question of, ‘What’s the lens that we put this through to make it relatable to our readers?’” faculty adviser Karen Hames said.
Matthew Tsai, the print managing editor, said this foundation has served the team well in its pandemic transition.
“We don’t want to have content that’s just a regurgitation of a national newspaper,” he said. “That’s why our sports section has always been our local sports team,” as an example.
Its September “print” issue took the ongoing nationwide conversation on institutional racism and considered it from the local, South Pasadena perspective. The result? A cover story on students demanding anti-racism reform, accompanied by inside coverage of issues seen as part-and-parcel of the problem — including news stores on the campus resource officer and the South Pasadena Police Department’s funding; analysis of City Council candidates’ positions on housing, the environment, SPPD and budgeting; and an editorial, complete with local context, taking the stance that Neighborhood Watch programs provoke racial profiling.
Preceding this, a large online spread in August dove into the city’s past practices that made it a so-called sundown town and how its effects resonate today even if once-official policies are no more.
“I think we were able to connect that with the national news, how South Pasadena used to be complicit in the racism and police brutality of the past,” Flores said. “I thought it was a really informative spread and we had a lot of feedback from people.”
Even if their careers don’t necessarily keep them primarily in a newsroom, the students embrace the world that writing at Tiger has opened up for them.
“It’s given me a way to dive into my other passions, specifically social justice,” Flores said. “I want to study human rights, but I want to continue being a part of my college’s different newspapers and publications. I don’t know if I want to keep doing journalism for a profession, but I do know that I want to keep writing and be a voice for people.”
Added Mao: “I think it’s opened me up to a lot of possibilities that relate to journalism or writing — like investigative or political journalism. Tiger shows us a lot of these possibilities.”
To read the Tiger Newspaper, visit tigernewspaper.com.