Online Beat System: Francis Howell Central High School

FHCtoday.com screenshot

Our beat system was created out of the dual purposes of needing to be able to cover all of our clubs and departments for our website (www.fhctoday.com) and improving the inverted pyramid writing and interviewing skills of my Journalism students.

I’ve always tried to give my students in my Journalism class as much practice writing inverted pyramid stories, but aside from one news story, it was always one news story, then on to features and editorials. With that in mind, I came up with the idea of having my J-students cover a beat of a club. I’m in my fifth year of advising and I’ve always had complaints about not being able to get enough information about all of our clubs – not just the big ones – into the paper on a regular basis. I’ve generally had staffs of 25-30 students and we could never get every club covered.

Students are responsible for producing two briefs from the beat per month. Beats were assigned through a lottery and then draft, with students able to select whichever club they wanted that was available at their turn, with the caveat being that they could not cover a club they were a member of. Beats max out at 150 words per brief. The staff of the newspaper held back some of the more prominent beats (Student Council, DECA, theatre, etc.) but everything else was available to J-students. Newspaper reporters also picked up a couple of leftovers.
Our briefs almost exclusively run on FHCtoday.com. This allows us to get information out in a timely manner, depending on whether the brief was an advance or the equivalent of a game story. They are edited for publication by a minimum of two of my newspaper editors before being published. I grade all briefs in as timely a fashion as possible.
The biggest benefit, aside from broader coverage, has been the enthusiasm and response of my journalism students. When they’ve found out their work has been published somewhere, they light up and seem to be more excited about the class. Club sponsors enjoy it because they get their information out to students in a student-friendly manner. And finally, my newspaper staff likes it because they are covering this stuff, but they are able to concentrate on stories that are broader in scope.

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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