Reinventing the school newspaper for the digital generation
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A Day in the life of School News

Beth has just joined the school news team and has already earned her first junior reporter badge by viewing and completing the online introduction to journalism.  She now knows how the software works, how to structure a story and how to conduct an interview.  Yesterday she was assigned her first job to report on the year 9 drama production.  As beat reporter for the Expressive Arts department, she has to keep in touch with the staff and students.  The Expressive Arts department beat is busy but she is lucky to be part of an experienced team led by Junior Editor Steven, a member of the Sixth Form.  “He is really helpful and a good mentor,” says Beth.  Beth has already +1 him three times.  Steven is scoring great leadership and mentoring points all of which will help him earn his Leadership badge.  However Steven is a little worried by the drop in readership of the Arts and Entertainment section:  “We should be doing better,” he said. “Comments are also down.  We need to work on our headlines and make sure we get the staff to promote each other's stories on their social media sites”.   Beth’s first story got a good response, 350 views, a lot from her friends but she is aware she needs to do more if she is to attract more readers and get more points.  She needs a new story and angle.  Meanwhile Sally and Amir are really pleased that their interview and review of the new show by local artist Rebecca Easel has been picked up by the local newspaper.  They’ve not edited anything,” enthuses Sally, “and they have used Amir’s photos as well.” “I’m really pleased,” says Amir. “They have linked back to our article for the video part  - more viewer points in the bank and big bonus points for getting it in the local paper, excellent”. 

Steven is also pleased that as section editor he has also scored more points. Currently the school paper’s circulation is just above the population adjusted level for the Daily Express.  “We might still overtake our fiercest local rivals New Academy and are closing in on last year’s regional winners Downton Grammar School on the leader board.” 

image 1That night Lorcan is attending a webinar organised by Friends of the Earth on global warming.  “It’s very easy," he comments as he types.  "All I do is log on and go to my collaboration area.  I’m working with a number of friends from other schools around the country on this issue. We are sharing ideas and resources and we have set up a joint poll to survey opinion across our schools.  It is really interesting how different schools are addressing global warming”.  Sara, one of Lorcan’s collaborators, responds to my email asking why she is working on this story: “I was incensed by a sceptical article that was published last month on the "best of national" feed.  I don’t think it was in anyway balanced so I registered a mission on the site calling for like-minded collaborators to respond.  Lorcan and ten others signed up.  I am hoping one of our articles will make to the national feed.  Our first job was to allocate tasks and unpick the inaccuracies of the sceptic's article”. 

Martin another collaborator and friends Lloyd and Pablo have some experience on other cross-school projects.  Last term they signed to work with the Skin Foundation to raise awareness about skin cancer as summer approached.  “The Skin Foundation had set up a great area with resources of all types we could use.  There were lots of photos which we used in our articles.  They responded quickly to any requests for extra information and guidance.  They were really helpful giving us a lot of good feedback as we progressed.  We entered the video advert competition and made a very amusing video called Cover-up.  It was a big mashup exercise, really fun, we got 3000 hits in the first 3 weeks and have since done a couple of presentations to tutor groups and put some posters up around school.  I really think I have improved my team working skills and I hope the project will help my Medicine UCAS application.”  Lloyd wants to go into marketing and Pablo into journalism, and both found the experience challenging, useful and fun.

image 2Ellen the Editor talks about some of the challenges she has faced:  “The key on the web is always to have new content,” she explains. “That can be difficult when exam season starts; even though a lot of us do this for fun, we can’t ignore why we are in school.  The key is to plan ahead and have the younger years trained up and articles and features ready to go.  The national I-Skoop team also send a number of missions through at this time with deadlines aimed at the younger years which can really accelerate their skill development and are great fun.  A typical mission may contain some information on a breaking story and a task to produce a story/video etc by 10am the next morning.  You have to have good communications and get going.  Get it done and it's more points. This is also a good time for news about balls, sports events and stories from the school staff.  We have never had a problem getting the stories out but it is undoubtedly more challenging during exam season.  We have a team of about 30 and we aim to produce 3 articles/media a day.  That’s 15 a week.

The programme is really good because we find out about all sorts of events and competitions available to students which we can promote.  Head office is always alerting us to interview opportunities which we can apply for.  We simply show up with our press cards.  We have recently interviewed Brian McDermott the Leeds United Manager, Carol Anne Duffy, our local MP and Jamie Oliver.  To get these interview opportunities and premiere night tickets etc, you have to have reached at least level 4 and be in year 10+.  We also receive weekly emails with story ideas and tips, and there are lots of other ideas in the forums on the learning platform.

I started as a junior journalist in year 8 and have progressed through the organisation until I was appointed Editor last summer.  Next month I pass over the reins to Jenny who I have been mentoring.  The online training is really important and useful.  Mr Thompson our advisor, myself and school librarian don’t have time to train up everyone in all the skills, there are so many.  When you complete a course, perform a role and achieve a certain level of views, comments etc then you achieve the badge.  You can post your badge onto Facebook and my space with your role and profile.  It’s a status update thing; the students love it.  We make full use of social media to both research and market our stories.  The badges/roles/learning programmes are graded too."

image 3Mr Thompson discusses the programme: “We have a school awards evening planned for the paper’s staff and our stories, photographs and videos are the highlight of the whole-school prize evenings.  It is clear that it’s not just our current students and parents reading.  Lots of local primary school children’s parents have viewed it. It excites them and their children to see how vibrant the school community is.  We have also been getting a surprising amount of emails from former students, which is lovely.  One of the benefits is that the journalists have had the opportunity to interview some of them as alumni and positive role models.  A number of our former journalists are involved with their university press and send us their stories to publish.  It all works really well.  My role is to work with the editors to manage the paper.  I run my eyes over every story prior to publication.  This is the students’ paper and it will inevitably be a little rough around the edges."reinventing3