PSPA: Eleven Ways to Improve Your Student Publication Today

Speaking to a few dozen high school newspaper staffers at the PSPA conference on Friday.
Speaking to a few dozen high school newspaper staffers at the PSPA conference on Friday.

On Friday, I was a highlighted speaker at the at the 76th annual Pennsylvania School Press Association conference.

Below I’ve shared the notes I handed out during my first presentation. I also shared ChristopherWink.com/Improve-Student-Newspapers.

I chose to speak on, “Eleven Ways to Improve Your Student Publication Today,” for the following reason:

I always think the best value of a conference like this, particularly for high school kids (I remember being bored out of my mind at these), is immediate take-away. I’ve collected some awfully simple, but delightfully practical items a student newspaper or magazine might implement right away and improve the product. I’m focusing on online promotion and dissemination, multimedia organization and Web presence.

Below see what I listed during my presentation.

Eleven Ways to Improve Your Student Publication Today”

1. Go online, son — If your publication isn’t online now, shame on you. If your publication isn’t online after this, shame on me.

  • If you’re scared of the investment, get a free Web platform.
  • Make your print product if you feel it serves a role, but teach kids the future. Get it online.

2. Make it a blog — Demand a deadline, when those stories don’t come in on time, run them online when they do. The best way is a blog.

  • Update your community as news and events come in. It’s easy and people will check in more regularly.
  • Link out to other sources or, eventually, back to your own posts as an effective means of fact-checking.
  • Cut your story length.
  • If any newspaper mentions your school or coverage area, link out, share with your readers what anyone else is saying.
  • Become a portal for all news about your school related community.
  • Fight redundancy, create institutional memory.

3. Cozy up to social media — Do your readers use Facebook, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr or Twiter. Um, k, then why aren’t you there, too?

  • Do you have a student excited by social networking? Put him or her in charge of social media for your publication. This is becoming a real position at newspapers and all businesses.
  • Get your publication’s RSS feed on Facebook, put all your photos on Flickr, videos on YouTube.
  • This can give your fans extra information, more to look at and stream-lines your process.
  • Remain connected with alumni, who can offer advice and professional development.
  • Create a sustainable Web presence.
  • Want to know more? Come to my next session!

4. Halve your columns — There are too many professional journalists not worth a column. When not done right, columns are lazy.

  • The cafeteria food sucks, the principal is a jerk. But why? That isn’t journalism, that’s libel. Do a report on how cafeteria is made. Do a report on why the principal suspended the star basketball player.
  • You need to learn how to report before you can have a column.
  • At best, have a single staff editorial or one from your editor or senior-level staff.
  • Have a single or otherwise reduced number of columns. Make it rare, a very special privilege because that’s how it is in real life.

5. Demand excellence — Student newspapers are about learning and everyone is at different levels but create a standard.

  • Every story needs an effective lede and a comprehensible nut graf, period. You can let the rest develop, but the lede and nut are essential.
  • Stories have to be read out loud, use spell check: demand the standards even if it’s an after-school club.
  • Relinquish power, like editorial and staff decisions, to students and hold them to it.

6. Staff training and recruitment – This is a long-term institutional change, but today, begin a culture of replacement. Every staff member is responsible for courting and training a possible replacement.

  • The biggest obstacle for continued success of student publication is turn-over. New staffers don’t know what’s been done or what you’re organization is about.
  • Develop “evergreen” content that is good forever. Who are your famous alumni? What is your school’s history? What’s the story behind your school mascot? Profile your principal. Share material that will matter for years to come, so you link back to them in the future, and you can help bring new staff into the fold.

7. Use Gmail as a home base – I’d regularly hear about our newspaper items being lost by students. Create a single clearing house for articles, story ideas and notes. Create yourpublication@gmail.com

  • Have staff e-mail final articles and ideas and notes with an appropriately described subject line to Gmail’s enormous storage capacity. Archived so nothing is lost.
  • Also use it for correspondence with readers.
  • Google Alerts for your school and high profile alumni, students and administration.
  • Google Maps as graphic for events, sports games or trends.

8. Craft a tagline and stand by it – Nothing gives you a better, more permanent sense of mission and focus. “Everything that happened at the Franklin Learning Center. Ever;” “Covering the community of Thompson Middle School” “Daily updates on Archbishop Ryan High School;” etc.

  • “Weekly in print. Daily online.” Example of reestablishing culture of excellence at The Temple News.
  • Are you covering just the school, just the school-year? Are you student-run, student edited? Are you primarily an educational tool or are you really covering news? How long has your publication been around?
  • Create pride, devise a mission.

9. Find a rude journalist – Not some friendly conversation, someone who will say what’s wrong with your writing, your layout, your… your everything.

  • Reach out to your local newspaper and have a speaker or three. Ask for genuine criticism and points of improvement.
  • Follow that local professional newspaper to see how they handle events you’re covering.
  • He’ll get you to rightly buy an AP Style book.

10. Buy a simple camera — Point and click for $100-$150.

  • Six or more megapixels; video with sound recording; sound recorder; USB upload if you find one with all of this and a mic-jack, tell me about it.
  • Take photos of all events, video of applicable events.
  • Photos of administration and staff if willing for future stories. Stock photos of community.
  • Find some simple rules on editing photo and video. Learn simple cheap video editing programs like Windows Movie Maker or iMovie.
  • Organize photos on Flickr; upload videos on YouTube. Use the best for your Web site.
  • Make it the anchor of a mobile journalist kit

11. Expand your coverage – Get off your butts and get outside your school.

  • Town events that many of your students or faculty will attend.
  • Own your school’s sports coverage – many in the community care.
  • Cover and follow alumni. Professional networking and institutional pride.