When I took over as the adviser of my high school’s newspaper two years ago, I approached my principal with the idea of “going online.” I came armed and ready with several reasons (which I won’t go into here) why I thought this move would be good for our school and our journalism program. My principal, Kaine Osburn, was extremely supportive; it didn’t take much to convince him that a student-run website was the future of journalism at our school.
I know this is not the case for all advisers who are in the midst of the “going online” decision. Factors such as prior review, confidentiality, and a potentially wider audience, in addition to fears of social media use and breaking news seem to weigh on administrators’ minds.
My principal has written a letter, which I’ve published here, to all high school principals who are questioning whether or not their schools’ publications should make the move online. His support has been invaluable to me–and I encourage all advisers and their principals to read his words.
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Dear High School Principals,
If you trust your sponsor, then make this leap, because the rewards are stunning. Because I had faith in Evelyn Lauer as a great teacher and professional, all her reasons for taking Niles West News online made my reasons against such a move evaporate. Boldly, Evelyn’s goal was to win a Pacemaker within three years. Mid-way through year one the news had 100,000 page views and by the end of the year, she and her students had won the Pacemaker.
But such accolades and milestones are not the reasons to make this move. The NWN is the online source for really learning about our school, even if that sometimes might be about something uncomfortable, like an unpopular policy. I tell my parents that if they want to learn about Niles West, they should first go to our Niles West News, then visit the official school site.
Additionally, the online source is more inclusive both of producers and consumers. More kids who are visually oriented can explore news stories and events visually than was possible in a print edition that was limited by space, materials, and deadlines.
And that is another great aspect of the online news, its immediacy. Our journalists can have a report online within an hour of a breaking news event such as the covering the malfunctioning sprinkler that emptied the school and our sports section can have up-to-the-minute scores. For 21st century kids, the print edition’s inability to be up to date meant it wasn’t as relevant. Such is not the case for our online news.
The same can be said for reader feedback. Letters to the editor no longer wait two weeks to be shared. Students, teachers, and I share our feedback immediately, and often this engenders a real dialogue about a topic.
Many of you might worry that this immediacy is a trap, that it prevents you from engaging in prior review. I do my best to minimize prior review whenever possible, and this again is where a trusting relationship between you and your adviser is essential. My adviser rarely sends me stories to read ahead of publication; I trust that she knows which stories I might want to know about before they are published. She lets me know about controversial stories before they are published, so there is never a surprise.
Nonetheless, I think prior review is made simply by the source being online. I have heard tales of entire paper issues being shredded and junked. If there ever is an issue with an online article (usually related to confidentiality), that the article is online makes appropriate revisions very simple.
Clearly, as you can see, going online does not boil down to faith. But if you trust the professional you work with, as I do my faculty-adviser, then you should make this leap. If you don’t have such trust, then you should make sure you develop such trust, no matter whether you remain in print or move to online.