How Hugh Hefner keeps a high school paper going strong
If it weren't for sex, the student newspaper at Steinmetz College Prep in Chicago would be in big trouble.
Hugh Hefner, who changed American culture by founding Playboy in 1953 and made a fortune by marketing sex, is long gone but not forgotten at his public school alma mater. That's especially true after renewing a commitment to subsidize printing the Steinmetz Star.
Hefner, who long ago moved to Los Angeles, is a 1944 graduate of what was then Steinmetz High School. He was a reporter-cartoonist on the Star and always felt a soft spot for it. He visited in 2010 and made a $7,500-a-year, five-year commitment to help with printing the paper. And, now, after a bit of a kerfuffle over alleged censorship, Hefner is renewing his commitment to assure that the Steinmetz Star gets printed in color and on high-quality paper.
That new five-year pledge follows a flap involving the principal's chagrin with a then-planned story last December on a new start time for the school. He said he'd refuse to approve the story, then setting off the possibility that the paper would close. Indeed, a spokesman for Chicago Public Schools at the time suggested it was a done deal, namely no print version, only a digital paper.
An assistant to Hefner contacted Sharon Schmidt, who teaches English and journalism while also serving as faculty adviser to the paper. What was up?
As Schmidt initially told DNAinfo, she informed the assistant that there'd been a problem. But now Schmidt was basically satisfied with how it all wound up. That's prompted Hefner's charitable foundation to reinstate a second five-year commitment, which would extend his largesse to 2021.
Steinmetz has an enrollment of 1,500, with 87 percent of the student body either Hispanic or Black. About 50 students work on the paper, Schmidt said, including about 30 from her journalism class. The paper prints about 2,000 copies of a paper that's come out at least five times a year in the last two years (there have been years where it's come out monthly during the school year) and circulates in the community outside the school building. It also maintains a website.
So do the kids at Steinmetz really know about Hefner, who's now 89 and once oversaw a magazine with an average monthly circulation over 5 million (its November 1972 issue sold 7.1 million copies)?
"Oh, yes," said Schmidt. "He's a big name at Steinmetz. Everybody knows he's an alum. We covered his visit and sometimes will have kids read our coverage of the visit. When there was a documentary on him in 2010, we showed that to them and focused on his support of civil rights."
For sure, knowledge of his identity does not always translate into adoration for a man who's also helped purchase computers, scanners and other equipment for the paper.
"It's funny," Schmidt said. "My student editor in chief at the time of his visit did not want to meet him. She said, 'I hate that stuff (Playboy),'" said Schmidt. "So in the same issue we covered his visit, she wrote about pornography degrading women."
That free speech impulse can now continue in both print and digital.