10 Reasons High School Media Shouldn’t Abandon Print

While there are a host of reasons for high school media to make a move online and develop a Web presence, don’t be too quick to pull the plug on the print publication — even if it’s on life support. Here are 10 reasons to keep your print product alive.

  1. Not Everyone Has a Computer. By going solely online, you are alienating part of your audience (It’s actually the same case I would make for telling high school newspaper staffs to not charge for their work.). Publications want to reach as many readers as possible and by going strictly online you are losing your demographic of readers who don’t have computers at home or have easy access to one outside of school. Yes, they can go to the public library to check the site — but let’s be realistic.
  2. Print Design Skills are Important. In high school, most students really don’t know what they want to do when they grow up. As educators, our job should be to cross-train them as much as possible and let them explore a wide variety of communication options available to them. By abandoning the print publication, you are eliminating a very reliable and viable option for many students. Graphic design skills make students marketable in a variety of sectors in the business world.
  3. Print Creates More Ad Revenue. While Web ads can cover minor expenses, those programs that rely on ad revenue to purchase equipment, software, memberships, etc. can’t generate near the funding through Web ads as they can through their printed counterparts. Until a Web business model gets worked out that makes sense, this will likely be the case for some time.
  4. Hard Copy Records Are Still Important. While much of our information these days is stored digitally, the verdict is still out on how it will transfer over time. As technology changes, files can become obsolete. Hard drives crash and important data is lost. Data lost equals history lost. The safest bet right now at preserving history, specifically what went on at your school in any given year, is to produce a hard copy publication and take steps to preserve it.
  5. Newspapers Encourage Reading. Not sure how your school runs, but first hour on paper day where I’m from, most rooms in the school shut down. Kids are in their desks. Rooms are quiet. Students are…reading. More importantly, they are reading optional material, not something that’s been assigned to them. It’s a pretty neat site to see and isn’t that the goal of what our staffs are trying to do.
  6. Print Publications Should Market Your Web Version. It’s one thing to actually get a Web site up and going, it’s another battle to get students to actually go to it. To gain readers you must market your site and what better place than through your print publication. They should not be battling one another for readers. The Web should be referencing the printed pub and the print pub should be telling readers to go online for more.
  7. Print Publications Keep Readers Reminded of You. High school students are overloaded daily with things trying to get their attention. By putting out a print publication, even just once a month, students are physically reminded of your presence and relevance. The print publication keeps your staff’s work real to the masses.
  8. Students Need to See the Fruits of Their Labor. There’s something about having a hard copy of your work to show what you did. Students love having that physical final product. While they can have that with work on the Web, what they can’t get with their online work (as easily) is the visual feedback the hard copy provides. At school, publication staffs get to see people reading the newspaper, carrying it around and discussing it in class. Unless you have a comment system that is utilized often by the masses it’s tough to tell what kind of reader reaction there is to your work online. Yes, tracking statistics can help, but to a student, those numbers pale in comparison to witnessing readers with the paper.
  9. Print Publications Can Be Read Anywhere. Yes, the Kindle, iPhone and other technological wonders are making it very easy for newspapers to be read on the go, however, for the masses there really is no replacement to the physical newspaper for reading anywhere. The masses can read it at school. The masses can read it at home. The masses can read it on a bus. The masses can read it in a car. The masses can read it at the game. The masses can read it as they walk. The masses can read it in a box. The masses can read it with a fox.
  10. High Schoolers Like it. I’ve found that more than anything, in my experience, high school students generally like having a newspaper. They like seeing the photos. They like reading the stories. They like commenting on the opinion stories. They enjoy finding out what groups in the school are doing and they love seeing their names and their friends’ names printed (and spelled correctly).

If high school students like it, if it creates a forum for our students to express themselves and if it’s promoting reading, it seems a bit silly that we would throw those things away and move solely unless it was out of necessity. There are some schools out there where ‘Online Only’ is the only option available to them. However, other schools are making the switch because they ‘don’t want to sell ads’ or because ‘printed newspapers are dying anyway.’

I would encourage staffs to explore options online and make the move (you will find few greater proponents of moving online than me), however, I will warn you to think twice — or even three times — before you abandon your print publication all together.

Print publications don’t need to die, they just need to evolve — but that’s an article for another time.

Aaron Manfull

Aaron is in his 20th year of advising student media. He is currently the Director of Student Media at Francis Howell North High School in St. Charles, Missouri. He is the Journalism Education Association Digital Media Chair and co-Director of Media Now. He created The Next 26 and is a former Dow Jones News Fund National Journalism Teacher of the Year. He is one of the authors of the textbook "Student Journalism and Media Literacy." You can find him on Twitter and Instragram @manfull and on Snapchat as aaronmanfull. He's a proud father. A transplanted Iowan. And an avid Hawkeye Fan.

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