The Death of a High School Newspaper

I’m the guy who is killing the newspaper.  I’m going to shoot it right between the eyes and put it out of its misery.  Some might call it euthanasia, but let’s call it what it is—murder.

I’m the guy who is killing the newspaper.  I’m going to shoot it right between the eyes and put it out of its misery.  Some might call it euthanasia, but let’s call it what it is—murder.  There’s no way around it. 

The Broadcaster is the newspaper of Hershey High School, where I teach.  It’s published six times a year in two sections totaling about 50 pages.  Each issue carries around 40-50 stories.  Founded in 1926, The Broadcaster has had an illustrious publishing history and won dozens of awards.

Yet to teenagers, print news is dead.

There’s no way to sugar coat this issue.  The audience of The Broadcaster doesn’t get their news from a newspaper, a TV, or even a computer.  More often than not, the students of Hershey High get their information and entertainment from their smartphone.

The American Press Institute put it bluntly:

…adults with smartphones are also much more likely than non-mobile users to get news through search engines (61 percent vs. 31 percent); online news aggregators (61 percent vs. 33 percent); sharing with friends via email, text, or other online methods (54 percent vs. 29 percent); and electronic news alerts (38 percent vs. 19 percent).

Every major news organization is working hard to get the attention of their audience.  Today that means doing more than simply publishing a constantly updated web site, but reaching out to the audience with rapid updates via Twitter, Instagram, and even Snapchat.

CNN, the Daily Mail, and Yahoo News are on Snapchat!  Media watchers are calling the delivery of news via Snapchat a huge deal.  You go where the audience is, right?

But the elephant in the room for our own Old Gray Lady, The Broadcaster, is timeliness.  The news contained within those 50+ pages is very old by the time it gets into kids’ hands.  The timeliness of the information is minimal when the news cycle for The Broadcaster is not days or hours, but 6-8 weeks!

Additionally there is no interaction with a newspaper.  You pick it up, read it and move on.  Where is the conversation?  The debate?  We like to voice our opinion, but with our newspaper, the time from when I might voice my opinion—via a letter to the editor—to its possible publication could be more than a month. (Comments online are their own problem.)

Hi, I’m Rob.  I’m an English teacher, and I’m killing my school newspaper.


But I want it to be like a phoenix.  As I heap fuel on the fire, I’m hard at work building the framework for something new, different, and better will emerge from the ashes.

Why’s that? Because I’m going to built something better with the help of my journalism students.  Next time I’ll spell out what ideas I have for the new Broadcaster….


In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Does your school have a news outlet created by the students?  What’s it look like?  Does the student body engage with it?  How?

Do you read the newspaper daily or do you get your news online?  Does the death of print news rankle your sensibilities?  What’s the solution?

  • DavidLSmith

    RIP Broadcaster

    While traditional media moves online and finds its home in the interactive world of flashing ads and glowing touchscreens, I don’t think print is dead, at least not yet. It may be littered with QR codes, or other links to the online world, but its place in our lives, as a physical record and artifact, is relevant and the death knell has been rung prematurely. 

    • RobSterner


      David, I agree.  The death of print is ever predicted in media circles, yet has not materialized.  I dipped into the writer’s bag of trick for hyperbole, but my third post in this series will look at the audience.  Teens simply don’t get their news from print.  So I’m going where they are.  And by doing so–as my next post will explain–there’s a huge freeing up of time in the curriculum.  That’s time better spent on learning how to write better.

  • BillIvey

    Great questions

    Does your school have a news outlet created by the students?  What’s it look like?  Does the student body engage with it?  How?

    We don’t have a news outlet, actually. Two of the 8th graders came to me last September wanting to start a newspaper club, but while I was helping them through the process of getting it approved, the Director of Communications pre-empted them by announcing she was starting a “media club.” The media club is fairly active, mostly on Instagram and YouTube, but due to its origins is more a branch of the Communications Office than a true student-driven outlet. My son’s high school, on the other hand, had (and still has) a thriving newspaper that is entirely student-driven, with both print and online editions and the opportunities for both immediate dialogue and longer-term reactions both formats provide.

    Do you read the newspaper daily or do you get your news online?  Does the death of print news rankle your sensibilities?  What’s the solution?

    I get my news online, largely through Twitter, sometimes through Facebook. When I see print papers at my Mom’s, it occurs to me that if I still read a printed newspaper, I’d probably have more of a sense of continuity and I’d probably stumble on a greater variety of unexpected and interesting things. But a) I’m cheap and b) I get a ton of news as it is, not just about the world but also from different world perspectives (and even in different languages). I feel like I’m in pretty close touch with the world, and I get the feeling people who know me would agree.

    • RobSterner

      Truth Above All Else


      I love the motto of your son’s HS newspaper!  I wish we could make The Broadcaster truly student-driven, but in PA we must submit our work to the administration for prior approval.  Presently that adds about two weeks to the timeline.  Secretly I hope to swamp our building principal with so much journalism… that this requirement is somehow eased.  

      My students are even abandoning Facebook.  “It’s old and creepy.”  It’s filled with ads and their parents, so my students are on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram primarily.

      I agree with you about the sense of community in a “newspaper.”  That’s something I want to bring back by going online.  The big issue will be managing the comments.  I’m looking at trying to figure out how does their comments.

      I appreciate your sharing a link to the paper at your son’s HS.  It made for some interesting reading and stole an hour of my sunshine filled Saturday… so it must be pretty good.  🙂

      • Jane Blystone

        Prior approval

        I would like respond to you statement "but in PA we must submit our work to the administration for prior approval." As president of PA School Press Associaton, as an elected school board member in Pennsylvania, and a Pennsylvania certified principal I am wondering if your school is following state code or not. Unless your school district has a published protocol that is an approved BOARD POLICY, your school may be violating state law.  The PA State Code 12.9.G.4 (STATE LAW) requires that a policy MUST indicate the actual person who is to do the prior review, and the time period the publication must wait for the review. If the designated person does not return the publication within the time frame, the students are free to publish accroding to the state law. I am wary of any administrator who believes it is his or her JOB to prior review student publications. I am also wary of any school board who decides that they know what teens need to know. Several dangers come to mind for administrators. First, it leaves the administrator open to litigation; second, it negates teaching the constitution in schools for any reason – so kick out AP government and Principles of Democracy from the curriculum. Have you ever seen an adminsitrator go out on the field to play quaterback for a high school football team? Of course, not, because that is not the prinicpal's job. Neither is telling a teen what to write. This is, in essence, what the principal is doing to your editors – playing theirr position. I never had a principal review my final exams prior to giving them. The enwspaper is a final, so to speak, for journalism students. Pennsylvania does not give carte blanche prior review rights to administrators. Students are tech savvy and can produce online newspapers without administrative approval. As an administrator, I would love kids to tell the good, bad, and the ugly about high school because that is how we solve problems. We do not solve problems with prior review, we just make such issues taboo to teens, when we really need to discuss issues with them. People who promote prior review are so afraid of teen intelligence. 

        • RobSterner

          Prior Approval



          I’m leery of prior review as well.  However, I’m inheriting the journalism program… so I have to work with the rules as established(for the time being).  We do not have an established timeframe for prior approval as I understand it.  However, my concern is that… say a week for the prior approval time frame kills the timeliness of the student’s work.  If we cover the Homecoming football game and can’t get a story and images posted within a day or two… the interest is decreased.  Make it a week… we’re reporting on old news.  The football team is already playing another opponent by then.  Pick another sport that plays more often… we’re now even further behind.

          I’ve already talked with the building principal about having to review 500+ articles in a year.  He went white.  We’ve already discussed some distribution among the administrators(so the turn around is faster).  Already our Athletic Director(who is also an Assistant Principal) is onboard.  

          I’ll have to explore the “deadline” for prior review thing more.  Much more.  Maybe a deadline there will be a real “fire” under their backside…

  • marsharatzel

    Hybrid newspaper format

    You’ll laugh but in my school, which is for 6th-8th graders, we leave the news to other sources.  Our newspaper reports and records the news of our school.

    What I think is similar is that our newspaper used to be print-based.  Unfortunately after we realized that 80% of them ended up on the floor by the end of publishing day, we switched to an online format.  Students like it and read it in their study hall classes.


    We still struggle, though, with getting parents to read it.  The print version, when it got home, was enjoyed by the family.  Now parents “forget”, despite reminders in the PTO newsletter and the Parents Friday Newsletter to read what students are writing.

    • RobSterner




      The Broadcaster is (eventually) going to something of a hybrid.  The vast majority of our work will go online.  Our very, very best pieces will be put into a magazine and printed.  We’re going to use a “print-on-demand” method.  The magazine will be available for subscription or one-off purchase online.  Upon purchase the magazine will be printed, delievered direct to the reader… and the journalism program will have it’s cut deposited in our club account.  There will be no cost to the district.  The magazine will be for longer works and things read at a more relaxed pace.  We’ll send copies to the school board, the local retirement home, and so on.

      So I hear and understand the struggles of hybrid.  Getting parent buy-in is critical… if sometimes futile.

  • AnneJolly

    School Newspapers

    I still remember my high school newspaper. What did it look like? How about purple ink.  (Anyone else remember purple ink?)

    Today I read most of my news on a tablet and many (not all) of my books from a Kindle and Nook  – I have both.  However, most adults in my area are now in “newspaper mourning”, since our print newspaper went to a 3x per week publishing cycle.  

    If the school wants to reach the parent audience, I suggest a newspaper in addition to digital media. If the school wants to reach a student audience – well – we know where to find them and it won’t be reading real printed material, likely. 


  • John Walter


    I think that you are on the right track with going to the web but I think that you shouldn't give up on print just yet. Leave web for the things that need quick updates like sports but do a spring and fall special issue in print that focuses on feature/investigation or a central them. 

  • JustinMinkel

    Best lead ever

    Robert, while the content of this piece is great, I have to say that what will linger with me is your phenomenal lead. I’ve been reading the outstanding blogs on the Collaboratory for about 4 years now, and this is the most gripping one I’ve read. 

    I’m generally a nostalgist (I re-watched Rocky III this week, and my iPod playlist is embarrassingly laden with 80’s music), but for some reason I’m less troubled by the passing of tangible print. (Though I did spend this morning with my favorite Sunday ritual, curled up with damn good coffee and the New York Times.) 

    We just had a state legislator pass a bill mandating the teaching of cursive handwriting, with the infuriating rationale that if not for this time-honored cornerstone of the curriculum, our young people won’t be able to read the Declaration of Independence in the original. 

    My response is always that the ideas in those documents are what matter, not the format–writing longhand “f”s for “s”‘s doesn’t thrill me. As this piece shows, your own talents as a writer are on display on my glowing MacBook screen as surely as they would be in gray newsprint. 

    Still, I won’t give up my Sunday ritual anytime soon, even though I could buy a paperback novel a week for the cost of that New York Times folded like an overcoat, waiting for my hands.

  • Ray Salazar

    News for today’s teens

    I teach the journalism class at my high school and we publish a monthly issue of our school paper.  I respect your efforts.  But I don't see a 40-50 page paper surviving these days.  Today's audience expects news / information in small chunks.  It would take a reader a couple of hours to get through that newspaper.  I don't know of too many adults who devote that much time to paper anymore.  Would you consider a shorter version of the paper that is published more often?  Our school does an inexpensive 8-page paper each month on 11×17 paper folded in half.  It's black and white.  It's good, concise reporting that students read, sometimes respond to, and then they throw it away.  That's what people have usually done with papers.

  • Jane Blystone

    Whose paper is it?

    Just wondering whose paaper this is if the adviser is killing it? The students should decide, not the adviser. Students should also be the ones who investigate who to move it to another platform. If you want to get some cool ideas about how to do it  send your students to and They both have specific help available for your students.

  • Sarah Nichols, MJE

    What works, what doesn’t and what might

    I'm interested to hear about that new framework underway. Reimagining learner outcomes marks a strong to commitment to your students and their learning. I hope what you mean is that your students will build something better with your help, not the other way around. The critical thinking and problem-solving required of today's student journalists as entrepreneurs is a beautiful piece of the program markedly less prevalent years ago when "just a newspaper" was all they produced.

    Tasking students with the responsibility of readership studies and audience analysis is an important piece of the scholastic journalism curriculum. Giving students the opportunity to measure what's working with a print edition and how they might complement and supplement that with other storytelling tools and delivery methods makes them better and smarter regardless of what they choose. It's fun to see them take on Snapchat or experiment with video stories from their iPhones, but it's AMAZING to watch them debate what they want to try and why, and it's even better to watch them pitch a carefully researched plan to their fellow staff members.

    Some careful analysis likely will reveal that print isn't dead, it just serves a distinct (and increasingly narrow) role. Done well, it does offer opportunities for interaction. Students do read it, talk about it, pass it along to others and carry it in their backpacks. It works.

    And yes, that analysis will reveal that a newspaper alone cannot meet audience needs. When students craft a plan for the expansion and reinvention (evolution) of their media program, the possibilities are endless — as long as that plan comes from the students themselves. We may spend a lot of time as media consumers and news junkies, but it's not our plan to craft. If we make those decisions, we short-change our students, stopping short of a perfect learning opportunity for them to build, tinker, reflect and retry based on their own ideas and collaboration. In the work surrounding the addition of a new medium or a reimagined student publication, students apply the 4Cs every step of the way.

    What doesn't work is telling our students "this is how it's going to be." I hope as educators we're in the business of the opposite. I cringe reading the phrase "killing the newspaper" not because I'm one of the last who treasures the daily print edition (I do) but because the implication feels so much like the censorship student journalists face all too often aleady. We don't tell them what to write, so why would we tell them which form it will or won't take?

    What we can tell them is that we're here to advise along the way and support their efforts in reimagining the newsroom. We might show them what profesionals are doing, or expose them to excellence in college media to start that dialogue. We certainly can listen, ask questions and serve as devil's advocate.

    And we can promise them we'll connect them to whatever resources they need. The Journalism Education Association (, the largest scholastic journalism organization for teachers and advisers, is a partner in this process. From digital media resources ( to a robust curriculum in every skill area (, an email discussion list for advisers to ask questions, national conventions where students can meet their peers and exchange ideas — and so much more — we can assure our students that in the adviser role, we'll get whatever training or resources we need to support them from our own professional community. 

    As your students decide how best to meet the needs of their audience, I hope you'll keep us posted. And I hope you'll join the conversation among JEA members, because we learn from each other every day, and when your students reimagine The Broadcaster, we'll be eager to celebrate their success along with you.

  • Kimberly Long

    Get With the Times

    I took over our Junior High newspaper club last year and the very first thing the students wanted to do was "update" and "modernize" the newspaper.  They wanted to go online!  We went with a wordpress account per the suggestion of our technology coach.  The students love the reports it gives them about how many people are viewing articles, and where in the world they come from.  The students picked the design template (not my favorite, but it was their choice and we revote on it each year).  Really techy kids enjoyed designing the header and the selecting color options.  The newspaper which traditionally was only for students who liked writing, now is available to many other types of students.  

    I have several teams/sections that do not write at all.  Our marketing/events management team organizes contests and advertisement around the school, the technology creation team helps the writers turn their writing into broadcasts, tv shows, and youtube creations, and our fashion team does a little bit of everything (makeup, modeling, photographers, designers, and writers).

    The article mentioned students desire for interaction and from my experience this is what many of my kids love the most about the website.  They make sports polls, videos, quizzes and puzzles.  With our school district going 1:1 every kid has access to the newspaper at any given time.  The "newspaper" is in their hands whenever they are in the mood to read it.  We currently do not allow comments, at the middle school level there was concern over whether students would be able to appropriately handle this.

    Personally, I get my news from websites like CNN, the Chicago Tribune, Twitter, and EdWeek.  Newspapers are a nice keepsake and I secretly enjoy their smell and how their ink stains your fingers, reading a newspaper is an experience. However, we need to meet our students where they are and they want digital!