For Abegail Javidzad and Eytan Merkin, the first issue of The Panther Post, which debuted earlier this year, was especially sweet. They served as co-editors-in-chief of the school newspaper, a joint effort by YULA Girls High School and YULA Boys High School.
“Just seeing all the hard work we put into it — everyone was so responsive,” said Javidzad, 16, who like Merkin, 17, is a senior.
While the girls school had a newspaper in recent years — it was called The Pink Panther — and the boys school had produced various publications over the years, although not consistently, The Panther Post represents a more ambitious effort as a collaboration between the two schools, which are on separate campuses, about a mile and a half apart, just south of Beverly Hills. Newspaper staff meet at the boys campus once a week.
“What we realized as we started up The Panther Post, which is really student driven … is that we needed to have someone who was a journalist, who was a professional, in order to maximize our student experience and school paper,” said Rabbi Arye Sufrin, YULA Boys High School principal.
The school hired Jared Sichel, 27, as faculty adviser. Sichel, who lives in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood, is communications director for political commentator Dennis Prager’s PragerU and a former senior writer at the Journal.
“It was a new experience for me,” Sichel said. “At the Journal, I figured out how to get the writing part done. Here, this was from a managerial perspective. You are working with student writers and photographers. The most important thing was working with editors to develop a system so they could really run the paper.”
While high school newspapers are common throughout the United States, they are the exception at Orthodox schools such as YULA, said Joelle Keene, founding executive director of the 4-year-old, L.A.-based Jewish Scholastic Press Association, which hosts an annual conference and contest.
“With a dual curriculum, there’s simply not as much time,” Keene said. “They may have four or five Judaic studies courses a day; put that together with the high-level academics, and there isn’t room for many electives.”
This past school year, three issues of The Panther Post were published. Each featured a community section with stories about new staff members and the school’s Model UN team’s second-place finish among 50 competing Jewish schools. The newspaper also has sections for sports, features and Torah.
While The Panther Post, as Sichel wrote in his introductory note, intends to “live by traditional journalistic standards” and “equally live by Torah values,” the paper does not shy away from controversial subject matter. An editorial in the most recent issue, published in May, titled, “Can schools control our social life?” — inspired by a joint message from the boys and girls schools, as well as two other local Jewish high schools — focused on an off-campus party.
“It remains questionable whether or not the school should have a say in its students’ whereabouts and activities outside of school hours,” the editorial reads.
Controversies aside, “We’re not The Boston Globe Spotlight team,” Sichel said. “The goal of the paper is to teach students the basics of journalism, to show them what it takes to see an article through from beginning to end, and to see a paper through from beginning to end. We’re really trying to teach the students to be journalists and give readers of the paper an insight into what is happening at YULA.”
Sichel plans to return for the coming school year, as will Editors-in-Chief Javidzad and Merkin. One of Merkin’s goals is to publish more frequently. “Also, if possible, I want to see if we can get a website up and running,” he said, something echoed by Javidzad and Sufrin. A website, Merkin said, will enable the students to post articles and other content between print editions. Currently, The Panther Post is distributed at local synagogues as well as the two YULA campuses.
So, are Javidzad or Merkin considering a career in journalism? “I don’t think so,” Javidzad said. “Writing is not my biggest passion. I have more passion in the sciences.”
“I’ve definitely enjoyed doing [the work on the newspaper],” Merkin said. “But I’ve sort of always been more interested in science and math. For my career, I think I want to do something in science.”
That’s OK with Sichel. “For whichever students want to pursue [professional journalism], if they can take something from their time at The Panther Post, I’d be very happy to be any part of that that I can,” he said. “But my job is not to prod them in that direction.”