“We only have 10 on staff, we can’t move online.” Yes, you can.

So many staffs talk about not having the resources or the manpower to move online. A year ago I was speaking in Michigan and met Jake Lourim. Jake runs Troy Colt Sports Update, a website covering sports at his school. He runs it by himself – and has for three years. And I’ll tell you, he does a really nice job. If Jake, staff of 1, can do this there is no reason you and your staff can’t.

Online staffs come in all shapes and sizes just like print publication staffs do. I think a staff of 30 can move online just as well as a staff of 10. I was actually talking about this a couple weeks ago in Colorado with a staff that wanted to make the move online but only has 10 people.

Before I give a few tips on how to do this I want to set a few things straight:

  • I do not believe you need a huge staff to move online.
  • I do believe you need frequent updates to keep people coming back.
  • Someone is going to have to learn how to get a site going. (No worries, there are tons of posts on this site for that and the web is full of great resources.)
  • Getting the site up is the toughest part, maintaining it is relatively easy.
  • You need to have the majority of your staff wanting to make this move. If the adviser is the only one pushing it, it’s likely to fail. If it’s just being driven by one staffer and no one else sees the value, you’re probably not ready for a staff site.

Once you understand that and have a site up and going, it’s very doable (and manageable to have a site that’s updated every school day during the school year.  While I am talking here about a staff of 10, you can adjust this number up or down accordingly to fit your staff. The template should work. Here are my 5 tips on how to make that happen.

    1. Everyone needs to be in charge of posting something to the site. If you have a staff of 10, everyone is basically in charge of posting something once every two weeks. One way to go about this is to assign everyone two days of the month. For instance, I could have the 1st and the 11th of each month. My friend Jon could have the 2nd and the 12th.  You get the idea. Each person is assigned a day and then is responsible for posting something on that day. By spreading it out and giving everyone a little to do, nobody is overwhelmed and you get fresh content daily.
    2. Know that this is a building process. There’s that old saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Well, your site falls into that category as well. When schools look to move online I always tell them to look at great high school media sites and professional media sites that they like and use them as a model to build the site. Understand that you may not see the site reach that vision until long after you’re gone. Too many schools think they have to achieve these lofty goals in the first year. Get your staff to understand that it’s a building process that takes time. And it’s a process that has to start with some group at some time. Why not now?
    3. Choose content carefully. It’s great to have a vision of a site you ultimately want. Use it as motivation and set reaching it as a long-term goal. Most staffs are already doing work for other publications and the web is an added duty. Adding a ton of extra work to their plates may be met with resistance. That’s why I’m a fan of starting small and gradually increasing expectations each year. For the first year, allow staffers to pick what kind of journalistic content they want to do for their monthly postings. Have them keep it journalistic, but keep it open. Ideas could range from news recaps and photo galleries to videos and sports scores.  If the staffer is posting content they enjoy working with there will be less pushback and complaints of ‘extra work.’ They might even find it fun.
    4. Speaking of content, work to rethink expectations a bit. I’m not saying soften up and let sloppy pieces make it online, but maybe rethink some of the ‘rules’ of your program. Some print media staffs have a set formula that ‘each story needs to 350 words’ or ‘have 5 sources.’ When starting out on the web I encourage staffs to keep stories at around 100 words and only four paragraphs. I’m more than happy to go in more depth on this in the comments section, but I think you can teach some great journalistic skills with this ranging from writing concisely to quickly turning a story on deadline. Maybe the first year web story requirements are 100 words (as most will likely be news/sports recaps/previews). The following year you could up that to 150 words and then 200 the year after that. For staffs with a lot of other things on their plates, this gradual increasing of expectations is a bit easier to deal with.
    5. Make sure you are utilizing all of the media students at your school. While I know this goes beyond the ‘staff of 10’ I promised to post about, it’s important to include here. Make sure you are creating this site as a site for  all mediums at your school (yearbook, newspaper, broadcast, etc.). Creating a site that involves all of your student media has many benefits and is a post in and of itself. For the sake of this post, let’s simply look at numbers. If the newspaper staff has 10 students, the yearbook staff has another 12 and there is a broadcast class of 15, combine them. You go from a staff of 10 working to update the site daily to a staff of 37.  There will be more varied content, individual students will be required to post only once a month, and you have more people in the school who feel like the site is ‘theirs’ – and that’s good for a lot of reasons.

I’ve broken one of my own posting rules by talking so much about this. I realize I’m already over 1,000 words and I could type more. It’s something I’m pretty passionate about because I feel every staff could easily have an online presence and I feel that an online presence is something that could save many small staffs with no money from having their program dropped.

I’m more than happy to continue this discussion in the comments below if you have them. I truly believe a staff of 7 could have a site. Heck, Jake has proven a staff of one can have a site. What are you waiting for?

Aaron Manfull

Aaron is in his 19th 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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One thought on ““We only have 10 on staff, we can’t move online.” Yes, you can.

  • November 1, 2011 at 8:36 pm
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    We started with 6 our first year…now we have 30.

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