Oaktown Teen Times: A Springboard For Inner-City Student Journalists

The Oaktown Teen Times is proof positive that a vision needs but dedication, hard work and a little luck to become reality. The reality, in this case, is one that propels underserved youth toward opportunity.

OTT, a non-profit newspaper written by, for and about teens in Oakland, Calif., is distributed free-of-charge to 10,000 Oakland public school students four times per school year. The paper is printed by the Oakland Tribune as a public service.

The program’s stated aim is to keep journalism alive for students who are underserved, and to allow them to let their voices be heard. Further, it’s helping kids to establish reading, writing and research skills while engaging in authentic coverage of their schools and communities.

Over the past eight years, OTT has worked with hundreds of teen writers, photographers and artists from Oakland’s 15 high schools as well as several middle schools and charter schools. Contributors are almost entirely students of color; many qualify for free or reduced lunch, don’t speak English as their first language, and are first in their families to aspire to college.

Launched in 2004 as a standalone newspaper, OTT in 2010 extended its reach from print to online with Oaktownteentimes.org.

The Web site’s aim is to help students extend their skills in print journalism to the online space, where multimedia allows for more in-depth, creative and comprehensive storytelling.

The technology behind Oaktown’s web site is provided and supported free by Minneapolis-based School Newspapers Online (SNO), whose established niche is rooted in the ease and extensibility of its technology, which schools leverage to extend their content to the digital space. With the technology details and questions covered, advisers and students can stay focused on the essence of good journalism.

Tom Hutchinson co-founded SNO and is pleased to extend his company’s technology to help the community of OTT journalists become more savvy online publishers.

“It’s exciting to see the great content being produced by the Oaktown staff,” said Hutchinson. “We’re proud to help them deliver their work to a broad online audience.”

Lisa Shafer and Beatrice Motamedi, co-managing editors of the OTT, work with students to write and edit stories for both newspaper and Web site. Their biggest reward is seeing students honored for their work. Last year, 11 OTT students won awards in a contest sponsored by the California chapter of the National Federation of Press Women. OTT also hosted a press conference with Oakland’s city attorney and a police captain regarding a new gang injunction, and took five students to the JEA/NSPA convention in Portland through a Donors Choose grant.

This year Shafer and Motamedi are looking to expand OTT’s multi-media presence and make its Web site a favorite of students. Beyond that, they’d like to recruit more schools to participate in the program, and help motivate and encourage additional schools to get their own Web sites established, especially if they cannot afford the printing bills associated with a hard copy newspaper.

A primary goal remains to generate more funding to sustain the OTT’s work into the future. Sponsors to date include the Oakland Tribune, JEA Northern California, the Newspaper Association of America, Donors Choose and the Open Circle Foundation.

Donors can head to http://oaktownteentimes.blogspot.com and send a tax-deductible donation through OTT’s fiscal sponsor, Media Alliance. Checks can be made out to Media Alliance with “Oaktown Teen Times” in the memo, and mailed to:

Media Alliance
1904 Franklin Street, Suite 500
Oakland, CA 94612

Those interested in volunteering with the program can contact Shafer directly at [email protected] or Motamedi at [email protected], or by writing to [email protected].

Anyone interested can also show support by going to the students’ SNO Web site at www.oaktownteentimes.org and reading and commenting on student work.

About Oaktown Teen Times
The Oaktown Teen Times is a non-profit newspaper by, for and about Oakland teens. It is distributed free to 10,000 Oakland public school students four times a school year. It is fiscally sponsored by Media Alliance, an Oakland-based media advocacy group.

For more information, please visit oaktownteentimes.org/ or oaktownteentimes.blogspot.com.