This year I am teaching Journalism. The class includes running the student newspaper at East Naples Middle School, the Gator Gazette (thegatorgazette.com), and creating the yearbook. While the yearbook is still in its preliminary planning stages, the newspaper has taken off.
Over the past month of school, the kids have really come around. I remember that during our first couple of Monday story-planning sessions, a time when we brainstorm story ideas, they resembled quiet time rather than a brainstorming period. The kids didn't know what we should be reporting on and were very hesitant to offer suggestions. It took some time to coach kids into realizing that many things that are going on around them are newsworthy. That awesome project kids are doing in Civics class? That's a story! The roller coasters kids are building in science classes? That's a story! New teachers to the building? Definitely stories!
We have decided not only to report on the usual happenings of our middle school, but also to feature as many kids and their accomplishments as possible. We look for stories about kids who are doing amazing things outside the classroom. We have musicians, artists, athletes, and scholars who are involved in programs in the evenings and on the weekends. We try to find out about those and feature those stories in the paper as well. It is our mission to feature our students, as many as possible, so that the community can see the awesome things going on in our school. Some parts of the paper, particularly the Features section, are more publicity than "news". That's okay because our human interest stories are the things that bring in readership.
Our newspaper is online-only. Because it is online, we can be more nimble. We update the paper every other day. There is a constant stream of new stories and the kids are now identifying things they can write about. They are now making suggestions without me having to ask. Many kids drop by to borrow the cameras so they can take pics in their classes or after-school activities. I even made press passes for the kids to wear so that teachers can identify them and allow them to take pics.
The downside to being digital-only is that we must advertise to get readership. We created fliers with our URL and a QR code and hung them around our building. One challenge is that our school frowns on cellphone use so kids cannot immediately scan the code or input the URL. We will occasionally publish a feature story on paper as a sort of sample story, hoping that it will drive more readers to our site. Getting kids to realize that our newspaper exists is a big goal for us during first quarter. We think that once kids see what we are doing, they will be regular visitors to our site. When they see pics of themselves and their friends, they will be hooked!