Hosting your news media website with Interscholastic Online News Network

header_isonnWith the announcement earlier this year that MY.HSJ will be shutting down Sept. 15, we at JEA Digital Media wanted to take a look at some of the other website hosting options out there for staffs. This is one post, in a series, that will look at different hosting options for schools. Here is a Q and A with ISONN.

Interscholastic Online News Network

What is ISONN?

ISONN is an off-shoot of the Intercollegiate Online New Network (ICONN), which we began in 2008 with a conference here at UT on online journalism. We wanted to build a technical system that would make it easy for journalism programs to start news websites for their students. More importantly, we hoped these sites would then be able to work together to produce good journalism and to change the face of journalism education.

We host around 40 sites in the collegiate network, and there are more than 70 sites that we host at the high school level. The high school number is growing almost daily because of the demise of MyHSJ.

It’s WordPress, so it’s all simple and straightforward.

We don’t feel like we’re in competition with any other hosting service. Our main focus is not necessarily on hosting but on the idea of the NETWORK. A site that exists off of our technical network can still be a member of ISONN. We have members that have found their own hosting and some that use the paid services. We don’t care about that. What we want is for sites to join the network and thus get involved with what we are doing and with other news websites.

People have to pay for the domain name but get hosting for free, yes?

Yes, that’s correct.

How are you all covering hosting costs? If things are too free, there’s got to be something happening. Right?

The hosting costs have not been overwhelming to this point, fortunately. So far, the costs have been covered by UT and by donations. We have a couple of financing schemes in the works but nothing formally in place yet. One is a network advertising system that would sell ads nationally, and we would split the revenue with the local sites. So, possibly, we can get to a point where not only does a site NOT pay anything but they will actually get some revenue for being in the network. We’re not there yet, but that’s a possibility.

Can staffs have ads on sites?

A site can sell local ads. That’s not a problem, and they can keep all the revenue.

What kind of technical support do you provide?

We don’t offer a lot of support. We can’t. Fortunately, we don’t need to. WordPress is WordPress, and we try to keep the network as free of bugs as possible. The downside is that we limit themes and plug-ins pretty severely. Some folks don’t like that, but that’s the way we have to operate.

Can staffs use any theme they want?

We offer a limited number of themes (not enough for some folks). There’s one we have, Canvas from Woo Themes, that is very flexible and offers a lot of options. Most folks are satisfied with what we have. After all, it is free.

Really, I guess the best question would simply be, What is the difference between you all and paying for hosting at Godaddy?

We’re turnkey. That is, we will set the site up for a school, and the folks there can go to work immediately. There is no cost except reserving the domain name. The other advantage is joining a network of high school sites. We want to do more things at a network level in the coming months, and that might include some joint projects and who knows what else. We also have a network news service, http://isonnnewsstream.com, that is staffed by UT students, and we see a lot of possibilities in that, too.

What are the benefits of the network?

Here are a few:
  1. ISONNnewsstream. This is the “news service” of ISONN where editors here (UT students) select the best stuff from all our member websites, put it on the news stream stie (http://isonnnewsstream.com) and make it available to other members of the network.
  2. Development of an advertising network. Explained above.
  3. Joint coverage projects.
  4. Educational resources for online journalism teachers. Maybe some online courses and workshops.
  5. Development of multimedia (iPad) textbooks for high school journalism classes. We’ve already started on this one and are now producing the Tennessee Journalism Series:http://tnjnseries.com. So far, we have some good stuff for high school classes and are planning more — all at extremely (!) reasonable prices.

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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One thought on “Hosting your news media website with Interscholastic Online News Network

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