Malibu High School journalism professor David Warshawski, who headed the school’s Journalism Department for seven years, is returning to his alma mater in New York.
By Melonie Magruder / Special to The Malibu Times
“One thing I always remind my students,” David Warshawski said, “is that journalism is the one and only profession in this country that is expressly protected by the Constitution of the United States.”
And having armed a legion of budding journalists with this kind of gravitas, Warshawski will be leaving his post as professor of journalism and English at Malibu High School. He is “going home” to New York, where he will be teaching a similar curriculum at a high school in New Rochelle, Westchester County. An avid proponent of responsible, but aggressive, news reporting, Warshawski arrived at Malibu High seven years ago to head the Journalism Department and its school newspaper, The Current.
“When I arrived,” he said, “The Current was printing only eight pages in black and white and distributed five times a year. Now, we come in at 20 pages, in color and we distribute 10 times a year.”
Augmenting the paper’s size and presentation weren’t the only changes The Current saw. Under Warshawski’s auspices, the staff at the school paper has consistently won national and regional awards for excellence. The American Scholastic Press Association rated them 1st place in their division six years in a row (with an award for special merit four times) and the Los Angeles Times has presented its Student Journalism Award to The Current for Best News Reporting, Best Editorial Writing, Best Editorial Cartoon, Best Photography and Best Review Writing. The National Scholastic Press Association consistently recognizes the Malibu High Journalism Department.
Warshawski attributes the accolades to the excellent work of his students. “All content is by the students,” he said. “Writing, editing, photography, layout… it’s all accomplished by the students themselves.”
He noted that his young journalists are not afraid to address controversy and are in regular contact with the Student Press Law Center, an advocacy organization in Arlington, Va. that promotes student free-press rights and provides information, advice and legal assistance at no charge to students and the educators who work with them.
“The beauty of student press in California is that state law protects student journalism to a very strong degree,” Warshawski said. “I am proud of instilling a high level of aggressive reporting habits in my students, but it is coupled with a demand for absolute accuracy.”
He said he talks with students about issues as they come up in national media and emphasizes that what they report, even on a high school level, means something important. He gets “very aggravated” when a journalist “screws up,” as in the plagiarism scandal with Jayson Blair at the New York Times or the paid reporting efforts of Armstrong Williams.
“I try to teach my kids that their job is important. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. People will look to them for the truth, so it is incumbent on them to change any public perception that the media is less than unbiased. We are creating not just responsible journalists, but responsible citizens.”
Warshawski grew up in Queens, New York and majored in journalism at Queens City College. But he was attracted to newspaper work early on.
“The very first time I had something published in a major daily, it was for New York’s Newsday” he said. “I was 11 years old and I wrote a review of “The Muppet Movie” for their kid’s section. Eventually, I became a staff reporter for them. Yeah, the bug bit early.”
Whereas journalism may be the inspiration that has driven his career, Warshawski confesses that one reason for his return to New York is that he wants to concentrate a bit more on his music avocation. His tastes run along the lines of hard rock and heavy metal, and he has just released his second solo CD, titled “Walking On A Wire.”
The journalism professor will be leaving behind a competent, but saddened, staff at Malibu High. Kate Abbott, who will be a junior in September, is editor-in-chief at The Current and said Warshawski’s are big shoes to fill.
“Mr. Warshawski taught us that journalism is a huge group effort,” Abbott said. “We might have enjoyed a family type atmosphere on the paper, but we had to get the job done. There were rocky parts, but he left it up to us to run the paper. I’m sure going to miss him.”
Julia Verham just graduated and will be attending Berkeley in the fall.
“He was a phenomenal teacher. So dedicated. He would stay until midnight, working on layout,” Verham said. “I’ll always remember how his classroom looked, with stacks of newspapers everywhere and posters of classic rock albums on the wall. And, of course, there was the couch to crash on after making deadline. He always encouraged us to take pride in our work and to do our best. We weren’t supposed to back away from controversy, but we had to be smart.”
Warshawski himself acknowledges that leaving the success and love he has felt at Malibu High will be difficult.
“It’s maybe the toughest single decision I’ve ever made to leave this journalism department,” he said wistfully. “But I have every confidence that these kids will continue with the responsibility and integrity they’ve shown up till now.”
When asked if he plans on subscribing to The Current when he leaves for his new position, he laughed: “Absolutely! They all know I’ll be watching them!”