Monday, March 25, 2013

Taking your school newspaper online

Well look at that! We got a snow day today. We probably got about 7" total yesterday, but not all of it stuck to the ground. However, all the rural districts canceled today, which I am thankful for because driving country roads in those conditions is Not. Fun.

As much as I loved the surprise day off, this is NOT what spring should look like:
view from my front window

So while I am sitting at home today, I thought I would write a post I have wanted to tackle for awhile, which is about bringing our school newspaper into the 21st century and taking it online. Below I'll outline how I chose our host site, tips and tricks for bringing your school newspaper online, and how to combat possible issues with doing so.

You can also read my first post about organizing a journalism class here.

How I chose our host site:
There are different websites out there that will host a school paper. One common site that is free is, which is a high school journalism organization. I have nothing against this organization and think it is great, but their options for bringing your paper online were limited. We didn't have as much freedom, as many layouts to choose from, and it overall didn't look as professional.

After literally just Googling "high school online newspapers," I found School Newspapers Online  
This website hosts newspapers from elementary schools through colleges and even some professional organization newspapers. I browsed through their clients list and looked at some local papers that used this host website and loved what I saw. 

SNO lets you choose from about 6 different possible layouts, you can add a plethora of widgets for free including a calendar, sports score scroll, polls, videos, photo slideshows, etc. You really can customize this website exactly how you like it, and it is so user-friendly.

The cost is $600/year for the first year and $300 after that. You can choose your own URL (ours is is our school paper You tell them what tabs you want at the top of the page, what colors you want to use, etc., and they have it set up for you within a couple days. Any time I have questions or issues, I get a response within an hour or two from their tech help team.

In order to publish an article, you just copy and paste the body into a text box, click a button to upload a pic with it, type in author's name and hit "publish." It is that simple, and it's exactly what I was looking for.

*P.S. I am in no way, shape, or form getting paid by SNO, nor do I work for them. Just wanted to share a site that worked for us.

Tips and Tricks for online Journalism

1. Survey students, teachers, community members, etc. to get a feel for interest.
We had normally put out one paper copy of the newspaper per month and it got circulated during homeroom. We knew kids read it because many times, teachers would use this as their homeroom activity for the week and distribute the papers for kids to read. I was concerned that we would lose readership by taking the paper completely online, when kids would have to choose to go to that site in their free time or during study hall.

After researching a possible host site, I brought it up with my staff. They all loved the idea. Then we surveyed some random students in study halls, and I talked it over with our principal. The response was overwhelmingly positive. This made me feel more confident about moving forward with this endeavor.

2. Promote, promote, promote!

We had to get the word out about our new site. I waited until we had had it for about two weeks and had a couple weeks' worth of articles uploaded, so there was content to read. Then I ran a school announcement in the morning announcements for three days, highlighting what types of articles we were running, what students might be interested in, etc.

I made colorful flyers with our new address on it and posted 20 copies around the school, including in the teacher's lounge and mail room, so staff got interested too.

We sent out a Skylert email to parents of students in the district (automated e-mail through Skyward) with the new address and highlighting interesting content. I get a Google analytics e-mailed to me each Monday showing the hits to our site every week. The day that e-mail was sent out, we had over 100 hits. It went out on a Friday and that entire weekend we were getting over 50 hits per day. On a normal day, we may have 15-20 hits.

Every time we have a new feature on our site or a particularly interesting article, I will run it in the morning announcements so students don't forget about checking it out.

3. Have a schedule for uploading content.

I went through this in more detail in my previous post about building a journalism class.  But basically, I have 2-3 students assigned to each day of the week for deadlines on articles. That means we publish at least two new articles each day. My editors are in charge of physically publishing these articles.

I also have to keep up the calendar, polls, sports scores, breaking news ticker, etc. My sports writer is in charge of maintaining the sports scores daily. He also often writes breaking news tickers/articles.

An administrator (me) is the only one who can upload polls. I try to publish a new poll every week and have it tie in with an article we recently wrote. The two most recent polls are displayed at all times on our front page sidebar. I also sit down every month and add new events to our calendar taken straight from our school calendar.

Combating possible issues

1. I'm sure many people are leery of letting students have access to publishing things online. I am too, which is why I only let my two editors and my sports writer have accounts. None of my other students have a log-in to our website. They write articles and find pics, but after I approve them, it goes to an editor to publish. I am also on our site during class time and double check everything that gets uploaded. In the future, I may (depending on the class) let other students have limited accounts (some accounts let them publish their own articles and some accounts let them write on our site but not actually publish).

2. Inappropriate comments.
This was a concern to me, too, but I wanted the option of comments so it could be interactive. This is why I chose a site that allows comment moderation beforehand.

In order to post a comment on our site, you must give a first and last name, plus a valid e-mail address. We do not allow anonymous comments. You must enter a captcha to try and combat spam (although I do get a fair share of spam comments), and then it gets e-mailed to me to moderate. I can post it, spam it, or trash it. This way students (or others) can interact with our articles and comment, but it is controlled, since it's still a school site.

3. Monetary concerns
We get sponsorships from local businesses to offset the costs of running a paper (this has honestly SAVED us so much money! We were paying close to $1600/year to get our paper copies printed).

At the beginning of each school year, we brainstorm a list of local businesses that may sponsor us. From that list, I cross off any that have been rude to us or not sponsored in the past and probably won't or that don't want to be bothered. I assign 3-4 businesses to each group of students (they usually travel in pairs).

The staff goes out to these businesses and we work on how they will approach asking for a sponsorship. We charge $15/month for a business to be located on our "sponsors" page with their company logo and a link to their website. We typically get 10-12 sponsors per school year, which is more than enough to cover our website expenses. In the future, I am also looking into selling advertisements for a little more money, which would be a larger ad that runs on our front page.

 So there you have it. Some tips and advice for transitioning your paper online. Another way to do this a little slower is to have a hybrid paper: publish online but keep paper copies as well. For us, it was more cost-efficient to just go completely online, plus it was eco-friendly. The kids are enjoying it, and I am loving it too. I can't believe how professional it looks! We have gotten nothing but positive comments about it, and I feel like the quality of articles students write have gone up since the move online.

Just as a side note, I wanted to mention a teaching documentary I watched this morning on my snow day that I highly recommend. I have Netflix streaming and am always looking for interesting things to watch.

Today I watched a docu called The American Teacher.

It chronicles four teachers through a school year and really gives a true glimpse into the trials and tribulations of being a public school teacher. I loved that it praised teachers, rather than criticized them. It shows the financial difficulties and strain it can put on teachers' families, the time commitment necessary, etc. As a public school teacher myself, I loved it and thought it was spot-on. So if anyone else is enjoying a snow day today, you might check it out!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your guidance. Starting an online school newspaper this year. Feeling overwhelmed.