Ashland High School teacher Bill Gabriel freely admits he never had a newspaper job. Yet he has been guiding student journalists for seven years and he harbors a print reporter's inclination to dodge the spotlight.
Weeks before retiring after 30 years of teaching, Gabriel is in his classroom, diplomatically sidestepping questions about his accomplishments. Instead, he's revving up his teenage news staff.
"It's going to be like Armageddon before graduation," he says, standing behind a lectern and towering over his seated students. "We're going to turn out a newspaper twice as fast as we're used to and juniors, you're taking over. Now, what have you got?"
One by one, student editors, writers and page designers explain their plans for upcoming print editions as well as the multimedia, online versions of the Rogue News.
Across the country, high school journalism is reinventing itself.
Although news classes are aligned to Common Core standards for language arts, the work may be used in newspapers, yearbooks, magazines, broadcasts or online news, says Kelly Furnas of the 2,500-member Journalism Education Association, based at Kansas State University.
No journalism program is alike, he says, adding that demand for new skills is driving the change.
South Medford High has a digital news staff, while North Medford High has students who report, photograph, edit and design printed pages of the Tornado Times, which was first published in 1918.
Although AHS's newspaper first appeared in 1915, there were four years — before Gabriel resurrected it in 2006 — when there wasn't funding for the print edition, says Principal Michelle Zundel.
"Bill Gabriel single-handedly revived the student newspaper and restored student voice to its rightful place in our community," she says.
Typical school newspapers cost the school about 25 cents a copy. The Ashland School District funds about $10,000 and advertising fees pay for computers and special projects.
Gabriel's latest wish was to convert microfiche copies of the newspaper from 1920 to 1974 to digital images. Southern Oregon University came to his aid.
Gabriel also arranged for journalism textbook author Tim Harrower to hold workshops at AHS to improve the staff's design and content.
"Bill is a pioneer in moving the Rogue News into the 21st century and to a larger audience online," says Zundel. "He leaves a powerful legacy in the classroom and the newsroom."
In early April, the AHS staff was feeling happy, fresh from printing an April Fool's edition that classmates were still laughing about.
The fake cover story reported the "true" reason out-of-state candidates rejected the job as district superintendent.
"While the people here may be proud of our roaming poets, alleged fairies that hide in trees with pan flutes and homeless prophets, one must question what the outside world sees," wrote junior Bryce Rogan.
Since most of the staff members grew up in Ashland, they are confident in parodying it. Serving on the paper, however, has given them greater access to news makers.
"Being a part of the Rogue News has not only helped me learn to manage my time and become a better writer, but it's a real connection to our school and our community," says Cass Christopher, a junior who is an editor, designer and business manager.
Recent stories have ranged from serious reports on students enduring cancer treatments to a profile of novelist Francine Prose, who will be speaking April 19 at AHS Mountain Avenue Theatre.
In what has become a Gabriel-initiated spring tradition, the news staff published a map that pinpoints where the Class of 2013 plans to spend the next year: college, military service, work or undecided.
Junior Hanna Greenberg wants a career in journalism and she's learning to ask her subjects hard questions. In the February issue, she wrote about AHS alumni Lindsay McQuade (class of 2003), a Navy nurse stationed overseas. "It was gratifying to share her story," says Hanna.
Junior Kristin Fitzpatrick is the staff photographer. She's not sure of her future career — she wants to study psychology — but through photojournalism, she has learned to get close to the action and cope with setbacks. Once, while shooting on Mount Ashland, her camera skidded off a hill and she had to dodge skiers to retrieve it.
Gabriel loves hearing stories about heroic efforts to capture news content. He encourages his journalists to be "part pit bull, part wolverine."
"I'm not a newspaper person, but I do know how to organize students," he says in his classroom. Lining the walls are baseball caps given to him by former students.
He says that so much of writing in school is abstract — the cause of the Civil War-type questions — but putting out a newspaper is real.
"If we miss something, we hear about it, like in real life," he says. "We should build education systems around real stuff. Advising this news staff has changed my whole philosophy about teaching."
Gabriel, who lives in Ashland, earned bachelor degrees in political science and general studies-history at Southern Oregon State College (now SOU) in 1980. He stayed to earn his teaching credential and a master's in secondary education.
He taught language arts to seventh- and eighth-graders in Talent from 1983 to 1987, and founded the Brain Bowl team.
He joined the AHS faculty as an English and social students teacher in 1987, the same year "The Simpsons" aired its first episode, a gallon of gas was 89 cents and the number of workers employed in journalism reached an all-time high.
Since then, newspaper readership has fallen and student news staffs have discovered faster ways to communicate.
And yet Gabriel is optimistic about print journalism. He is waiting to hear who will succeed him so he can turn over his vintage copies of the Rogue News.
Looking back at the old editions, the ball caps hanging on the walls and the students in front of him, Gabriel feels he has contributed.
"Teaching is not a way to get rich," he says, "but it's a great ride."
Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or firstname.lastname@example.org.