The kicker is that it’ll save a pretty penny that we to use elsewhere… like on computers, cameras, microphones, field trips…
In my last post, I detailed some of the reasons I’m killing off my high school’s newspaper, The Broadcaster. If you missed it, or don’t have the time to read it… I’m shifting our school newspaper from print to 100% online.
This time I’ll provide a more specific pedagogical rationale for this move.
The lightbulb moment
There was a long process involving research, discussions with colleagues, visits to conferences, more discussions… but the big “lightbulb moment” was when I realized one simple thing. The one reason the print version of The Broadcaster would have to die.
Here it is: the students will write more.
Last year our Journalism II students each wrote six stories. Six.
By comparison a Columbia Scholastic Press Association multiple Gold Crown winner The Feather, their “35 staff members have already written 432 articles by Dec. 14.”
I did some quick math and arrived at a figure of about 25 stories per student per year. Admittedly quantity doesn’t lead to quality, but writing just six stories doesn’t give students as many opportunities to hone their craft.
So what’s draining away so much time?
So much time is spent laying out the paper using the desktop publishing software QuarkXPress that the students don’t have time to write more.
How it’ll work
By shifting The Broadcaster online, the Journalism II course suddenly has much more time available in the curriculum.
Next year the students will do four-week “rotations” in three specific jobs: reporter, editor, and longform. By the end of the year they’ll have done each job once if not twice in most cases. Each job description below is from our new staff manual for next school year.
“A reporter is the ‘boots on the ground’ for the news. Reporters seek the truth. By interviewing sources, doing background research, writing, and rewriting reporters construct the story. Reporters work with and for editors.”
The reporter rotation builds on the skills learned in Journalism I, but adds an element: time pressure. The time from initial story pitch to final submission for administrative approval (the final step before publication) will be just two weeks. The reporters will produce a minimum of two stories in four weeks.
“The work of an editor is, at its best, invisible. The reporter gets the glory. But if the story is poorly written or rife with grammar errors, you will take the blame along with the reporter. The editor is guide, cheerleader, gatekeeper, taskmaster, and guardian of the good name of The Broadcaster.
“…newspaper copy editors are expected to be fully qualified journalists. Just as judges are lawyers, astronauts are pilots and FBI agents are cops, newspaper copy editors are reporters first.” –from Bill Walsh, Washington Post resident grammar wonk, who blogs at The Slot
In the past editorial positions at The Broadcaster were reserved for the Journalism III students. Going forward the Journalism II editors will be the first stop for their peer’s stories. The Journalism III students will be both reporters and section editors looking at focusing our efforts. What stories need to be told?
Also the Journalism III editors will act as another set of eyes before any story makes it to my desk.
Longform journalism is an ill-defined area of journalism. Simply put, it is journalistic writing that is longer than a traditional news story but shorter than a book. 1,500- 4,000 words(ish). It requires more sources and research. To create a solid piece of longform the student will need to develop a more nuanced understanding of article structure. These are in-depth pieces.
Longform articles are our “Page One” stories, our Pulitzer grabs, our go-for-broke stories.
Without the crushing pressure of a deadline looming just as the story is pitched, these students will have time, a precious commodity in journalism. With this extra time the student may shadow a source in addition to a sit-down interview. The longform reporter may conduct detailed surveys, create an accompanying photo essay or create infographics. This is where our experimentation with multimedia will occur.
Next year the Journalism II students will be writing over 500 stories as a staff by my count. This number does not include the Journalism III class which will produce the print Broadcaster for one last year.
The last item is–without disclosing the exact dollar amount–this change will save The Broadcaster budget serious money that we can use on computers, DSLR cameras, microphones to experiment with audio, conference fees for our reporters, etc. Things that will have more impact dollar-for-dollar on the students’ learning than QuarkXPress and the print Broadcaster.
Next post I’ll take a look at a key element in the survival of any news organization: audience.
But in the meantime, chime in.
- What questions or comments do you have?
- Is there anything you think I’m missing?
- And for the non-journalism teachers how can we get students writing more (without drowning in grading)?