The Metamorphosis of a High School Newspaper

Going online solves some problems, but it creates others…

Digital news is the future.  Print is dying.

That’s what many news organizations like the New York Times realize.  The Times storied Page One meeting is not the key meeting of the work day for editors anymore.  Digital news is in the ascendancy even for legacy organizations.

Why?  What lessons can a simple high school newspaper glean from this change?

There are two key factors which govern the business side of news: audience and advertising.  Our audience for The Broadcaster, the news organization of Hershey High School, is teenagers, their parents, and some of the community at large.  Our readership is small, under 1,000.  The advertising revenue miniscule.  

But The Broadcaster is not a business.  It’s an educational outlet.

The question is how best to reach and serve our community of readers with limited resources while also maximizing our primary role: education.  

Our largest audience is the group that has come to be labeled “digital natives.”  And there’s research to back up this moniker.  In a 2015 study the Pew Research Center found that 92% of teens are online at least once a day.  24% reported being online “almost constantly.”  Teen respondents also reported accessing the web via a smartphone 73% of the time.  

 

Inspired by the “Teens, Social Media & Technology” survey, I conducted my own (albeit informal) survey recently.  My findings were pretty telling.

Of 75 respondents, over 90% have either a smartphone or tablet.  Hershey is a Bring Your Own Device district so we encourage the students to bring their smartphones, tablets, and laptops to school.

 

Almost 90% of students access the web and social media via their smartphone.

 

Over 95% of students reported accessing their social media network of choice “more than once a day.”  I see many students checking their devices between classes (or during when they can get away with it), at lunch, and during study hall.

 

Clearly the best delivery method is digital to reach our audience.  But what method?  Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat?

Again the Pew Research Center’s “Teens, Social Media & Technology” survey offers some advice.  Their research suggests that Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat are the top social media platforms.  The social media networks Hershey students use most are Twitter and Instagram.  Facebook, although reportedly “dead” to teens, and Snapchat are nearly equally used at Hershey.

 

So we’ll publish our work on WordPress, deliver notifications via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  Snapchat is too ephemeral and too difficult to ensure respectful use, so it is out.  

 

The Broadcaster will use digital for the kinds of stories it excels at: breaking news, sports, and some features (especially multimedia).

 

One of the biggest impacts of scholastic news writing is for the reporters.  Writing for a teacher, an audience of one, is stifling and often downright boring.  With each new pair of eyes reading and judging your work, the tightrope gets a bit higher.  There is a certain terror and thrill in seeing your work in print or online, and I cannot artificially reproduce that in the classroom.  

 

Here’s an excerpt from a draft of the staff manual on this topic:

 

The Broadcaster is a class.  

In most English classes, you are writing for an audience of one: the teacher.  The Broadcaster is an online publication.  We can reach not only the 1,200 students in the high school or the 3,000+ students and staff district wide or the 20,000+ residents of Derry Township… we can reach the world.  The work you publish will have your name attached to it forever.  So while each article will earn you a grade, what else will it earn you?  Respect? Distain? Scorn? Appreciation?

 

Does this mean print news is truly dead at Hershey?

 

No, not really.  But that’s a conversation for next time…

 

Let me know what you think about teens and media.  

 

How do teens consume the news?  

How do you get your news?