At the beginning of fourth quarter, the Dean of Students at my high school decided to implement an intervention time, 15 minutes where struggling students would attempt to turn their path around, get help from their teachers, and finish their assignments, while those passing everything would play basketball, peruse last period’s Facebook updates, or study for the history test next hour. When this idea was proposed, students and teachers responded with an uproar. Things were going to fall apart. Kids were going to sneak out, start fires and fall in gaping road ditches. Teachers were going to have mountains of paperwork and hours of extra planning, which we would only be able to complete after the arduous meetings we would be required to attend.
Then intervention time began, and surprise, nothing happened. Kids went to teacher’s classrooms and got help. They finished assignments. Some still failed. Some passed by the skin of their teeth. Some played basketball. Some finished their math homework. The sky did not fall. Friendships did not dissolve. The hallways were not filled with anarchy and teachers were not sleeping at school to finish their paperwork. My principal always said that the seniors always have the toughest time with change. For them, the four years they have spent in high school is a quarter of their conscious life. But for teachers, we are even older, and change is even harder. It’s uncomfortable. It makes us unsure, and if there is one thing you don’t want to be in front of students, it is unsure.
When my superintendent brought up the possibility of taking our newspaper online at the end of the school year, my immediate reaction was to discredit this as a ridiculous change that would undermine the students’ design and writing work. But I was cautious to check – was I just out of touch? What did kids think?
In an anonymous survey, kids responded much as they did to our intervention time. One student replied, “I dislike this idea. I think it will not only decrease readership, but it will make deadlines seem like they can just be missed because we don’t need to have everything done in time to send it in, since we can just put them online whenever.” Another worried that “less people would read it because they have to go out of their way to look at the paper instead of physical copies being passed around.” A third student thought the class would be a misnomer, and wrote: “I think the whole point of a journalism class is to be published in an actual paper. I mean why not call it blogging class if we put it online? Either don’t have it at all, or have it published.” This either or idea is our fatal flaw: if we can’t do something new perfectly, then why even do it at all?
The truth is that an “online newspaper” can mean many things. It could be a PDF document emailed to students. It could be a robust website with a social media presence. More than likely, it is something in between. Students and community members will read what is interesting, what is exciting, and what is informative. Whether that is in print or online, the marriage of the content and the design will drive readership, not the format. It may be uncomfortable. It might not get off the ground by August 25. But our fear of change shouldn’t stop us from trying something new that could be cost effective, educational, and beneficial to our program.
Five Reasons Why An “Online” Newspaper is not the End of the World
1. My school is fortunate to be a 1:1 school, and has been for some time. Students spend a large amount of time their computers already – why not spend it reading about school news, personalities, and the fantastic advice from Leroy the Lion?
2. Put our obsession with social media to work! Teachers often spend too much time taking away cell phones, trying to get kids off Twitter, and hoping things don’t end up on Facebook. But creating a professional publications Twitter page can help promote stories, share news, and teach students how to engage in appropriate digital citizenship.
3. Jamming 26 stories into a four page InDesign document due by 3:30 pm on a snow day is an exercise that shows determination, but does not always bring out the best writing. A website provides the flexibility for our own timeline. Homecoming week? Share 30 photos a day. The black hole between winter break in January and spring break in March? Keep to a more regular schedule.
4. Environmental concerns, of course. Save some of that paper for tardy slips and detention forms.
5. What about the students who will not become reporters? Although it may sound like overstating the importance of journalism, learning the basics of web design and programming can help students investigating careers in growing tech fields.
Like our intervention time, often we find more reasons TO make changes than NOT TO make them, if we truly look. An online newspaper does not have to mean decreased quality or readership, but it also does not guarantee increased excitement for the program or publication. Readership and publicity will only increase with hard work and attention to the habits and desires of the student, staff, and community readers.