Moving to the Internet – 10 Stops along the way to ensure success

Moving online seems like the thing to do these days. The professional media has seen the need and high school media staffs each week proclaim their new digital presence to their readers. I think it would be safe to say it’s a place everyone wants to be – it’s just a little scary because the road is not one that many have traveled and there’s no real Google Map to get staffs from point A to point B easily.

While the road is a little rocky, it is one that any staff can navigate – and it’s a trip that all staffs need to talk about taking, if they already haven’t started packing for.

I’ve been on this journey with my staff for more than five years now, I’ve worked with more than 100 advisers and professionals to help them develop or expand their online presence and I’ve spent the past year coordinating content for JEADigitalMedia.org. During that time I’ve found there are basically 10 stops staffs should take on their journey online if they want the trip to go as smoothly as possible. I talk a little about each of the 10 stops here and, for a few, give you a few online resources you can check out for more information.

1) You’ve got to decide that everything must revolve around the Web – This is a concept that the masses must buy into and one which I will discuss a bit more later in this article. Briefly speaking though, to have an effective site and enough bodies to generate frequent content, all journalism students need to contribute to the site. There obviously needs to be a Web team of sorts running things, aside from that though the yearbook, newspaper and broadcast staffs all need to be working as one to generate content. This makes us rethink our programs a bit and ‘how things have always been.’ However, this is a time for change and high school media staffs need to adapt and reorganize, instead of fitting the Web into existing staff structures.

Convergence plan for those looking to rewrite curriculum or just rethink their classeshttp://bit.ly/bIbiTO

2) You need a mission statement – What is your site going to be about? How will it differ from the other media at your school? What do you think your audience wants and will they find it when they get to your site? These are all crucial questions to answer before you jump too far in to the move online. If you don’t take time to decide what your site is going to be about, it’s going to be pretty tough for you to design the site once the time comes.

3) Develop a sitemap – A sitemap is an outline of sorts. It shows what your menu structure is going to look like and it will help you organize all of your site elements. First, make a list of everything you’re going to have on your site. Then decide which items are going to find their way into the menu bar. For this, check out other media sites out there and see what kinds of things they have in their menu structure. Then, make your own sitemap tree. This will really help you when you go to build the site. Many staffs will want to just jump in and start building the site rather than take the time to create things like a sitemap. This is a problem. It’s kind of like not dummying a page before you sit down at a computer. Staffs need to spend some time dummying and thinking before they actually start building as it will actually save a lot of time in the long run.

For some samples of sitemaps, go to Google.com and type in ‘sitemap.’ Then click on ‘images’ and look at some examples. You can also check out more about what a site map is here: http://bit.ly/b0DPyQ

4) Make sure you have an easy, memorable URL – If you don’t have a URL that easily rolls off the tongue, it’s going to be tough for your target audience to find you. Make sure it is short and something that would be recognizable for your target audience. Go to somewhere like godaddy.com and check for available names in their “start your domain search here” box.

If you have to host your site somewhere that gives you a long url like www.northstar.fhsd.k12.mo.us (you know, something you can’t really chant) then you most definitely need to get a URL and forward it to your site. See how to do that here: http://bit.ly/ciNQDv

5) Make sure you create a dynamic Web site – You will have the option at this point to create a static or dynamic Web site. You don’t want to create a static Web site with a program like Dreamweaver, you want to create a dynamic one with a content management system like WordPress, Joomla or Drupal. Those three are all free, open source, web-based CMSs. These programs allow sites to be modified on any computer that has internet access, either from home or school.

“Static v. Dynamic Web sites – One is much better for you” http://bit.ly/mqwvN

6) After you choose your platform, learn all you can about it – Let’s say you choose to go with WordPress CMS (this is wordpress.org, not wordpress.com) to use for your site, the great thing about that is there is a great deal of content out there to teach you WordPress. You can pay for video training at a place like Lynda.com (which I am a big fan of), you can buy WordPress training books, you can even just search the Web for free WordPress training videos. There are a lot of them.

“Adding Content to Your WordPress Site” http://bit.ly/cm0v2j & “Putting Plugins and Widgets on Your WordPress Site” http://bit.ly/be4Ib1

7) Develop a system for generating frequent updates – In order to get people to visit your site, you’ve got to give them a reason to go there and return. Frequent updates are a key to this. Updates can be photos, videos, stories, multimedia, polls, etc. Coordinating these updates – daily if you can – is an important step in taking your site to the next level.

Check out some beat systems in scholastic media: http://bit.ly/aHG2vN, http://bit.ly/a1taR6, http://bit.ly/SXSHd

8) Understand that you need to start small and add in small increments – Rome was not built in a night, neither will your staff’s site. Get one up and going. Have your staff start with few bells and whistles and get them do those few things well. Then, add something small each month. Staffs won’t feel as overwhelmed with ‘extra work’ under this plan and you’ll have a much higher chance that the changes will stick.

9) Once you get a solid foundation to your site, work to add some bells and whistles – There are lots of things that the Web can do that your print publication can’t. Make use of this. Cover a pep assembly live on your Web site, have an online chat with readers during the President’s State of the Union Address, make your photo story come alive with audio slideshows.

Live events: http://bit.ly/bRi1yj; Group chat during events: http://www.coveritlive.com/; Audio Slideshows: http://bit.ly/c8Z5GH

10) Once you get your site up and running, promote it – I would wait until you get some sort of organization and system to your site before you do a massive launch of it to the masses. Last thing you want to do is tell all these people to come see your site and then you don’t have the site fully designed or a system in place to give them frequent updates.

“Ways to publicize your Web site” http://bit.ly/aoGgpd

While there could be an entire article on each of those items, that is a nice blueprint for you all to get headed down the path. There are a plethora of resources on JEADigitalMedia.org, geared specifically to scholastic media staffs, which expand on each of these points.

More than anything, just get in the car and start driving (or rather, let your students drive while you sit in the back and watch).

Don’t be scared.

Try things.

Share what you learn.

Don’t hold your staffs back.

Good luck with the journey.

Editor’s Note: This post is a reprint of an article that appeared in the Spring 2010 edition of “Adviser Update.” “Adviser Update” is a Dow Jones News Fund publication.

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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