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The Next 26: What staffs need to be doing in 2012-13

Man flipping a calendar from 2012 to 2013In scholastic journalism programs today it can’t be business as usual. Programs that are not connected, do not recruit and do not adapt are in for a bumpy road. Just like the current journalism industry, we can’t be content with sitting back and doing things as we’ve always done them. We need to rethink, reimagine and be proactive.

In conjunction with an article I wrote for Adviser Update, I’ve worked to create a list of 26 things that staffs need to be doing with their program in 2012-13. While I am sure there will be some debate of what I’ve included, or left off, I think the list below will be a nice discussion starter for programs across the country to reflect on where they currently are.

As with the other lists I’ve archived above, I’d love for the discussion to continue in the comments below. What do you agree with? What do you disagree with? What are other resources that could be added to those I’ll be including?

Help yourself. Help others.

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#26 – Give back

As I was compiling this list some time ago, I asked on Twitter what others thought should make the list of 26. This was one offered up by Mitch Eden from Kirkwood High School and one that I thought should serve as the closing to the list. He said staffs should ‘Give back’ because “Giving staffs are closer staffs.” I couldn’t agree more. While this might not be a ‘journalistic’ tip, it reminds me of a phrase Jack Kennedy used, which he adapted from a Ken Fuson story, “High school journalism is more about high school than it is about journalism.”

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#25 – Have calendars for each deadline

Staffs and sections generally have recurring cycles. Work to have deadline calendars for each production deadline cycle and section. Have daily ‘due dates’ so work progresses throughout the deadline, rather than in some crazy whirlwind at the end of a deadline. Here’s the overall staff calendar my staff has created for the September issue of their newsmagazine. Make sure calendars are shared at the beginning of each deadline with all staffers and make sure each staffer knows what’s expected of them each day.

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#24 – Start the year off with a journalism boot camp

Do you start each new semester off with a boot camp for new staffers (or even old ones too)? You should. While everyone really wants to just start the year and make cool pages and take great photos, a little training and a few reminders early go a long way to ensure success for the masses. I’ve run a boot camp of sorts the past few years to get everyone started on the same page. Here’s what I do the first six weeks of school with my newspaper staff, my yearbook staff and my photo and video team.

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#23 – Teach students to write quickly and clearly

We are living in the age of now and we need to prepare our students for that. We shouldn’t always give them three weeks to write a story, especially if it’s ballgame recap going on the web. We need to be teaching them skills to turn stories quickly. Their audience will appreciate this skill and so will the student who isn’t spending three weeks procrastinating work. In addition, on a very basic level, we need to make sure we are teaching students to write well, whether this is through captions, stories, emails or texts, we need to stress to them the importance of taking time with their writing and projecting a good image.

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#22 – Staffers should know how to design simple, visually pleasing works

To put students in the best possible position we can once they leave our walls we need to have them cross-trained in a little bit of everything. While specializing can be great for a select few, the masses on staff will benefit most from being cross-trained in every area. Basic design skills from learning about dominant elements to understanding font selection are things they’ll be able to use regardless of what profession they head into. For high schooler’s, I still think one of the best design books is Tim Harrower’s Newspaper Designer’s Handbook (2012 new fancy version or an older — more economical — version that would work nicely for beginners).

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#21 – Know basic composition and basic editing of photos and videos

There are lots of great sites out there to work on photo and video composition. From the video side of things, I’m a huge fan of the Video Coach DVD by the Academy of Scholastic Broadcasting and my favorite photo book is Kenneth Kobre’s Photojournalism text. For editing videos, iMovie can do lots of the basics and it does them very well. If you’re just getting into video and on Macs, I don’t think you need the added expense of Adobe Premiere or Final Cut X. I’m not as familiar with Movie Maker for the PC (which is free) but I’m sure it does the basics just fine. From an app standpoint, again I turn to iMovie for the iPad and iPhone and I also like Splice. All have the basic editing tools your students need to create some great work. While there are free tutorials throughout the web for most all of these programs, I still think Lynda.com is the way to go if you’re looking for a place to learn.

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#20 – All staffs need to get into video

When I started advising 14 years ago, video seemed to be a dying beast. There weren’t a lot of effective ways to distribute content and equipment was expensive. Today, with sites from Schooltube to Youtube, content delivery isn’t an issue and most students are carrying digital devices in their pockets that can record audio and video with the push of a button. If you’d like more information on how your staff could get started down this road, check out JEADigitalMedia.org and the Guide to Broadcast and Video.

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#19 – Staffers should be creating print and online portfolios

All students should leave a program with a professional-looking resume and portfolio. This can be a print or web-based portfolio or one of each. Over the years my staffers have used sites such as WordPress, 4ormat, Tumblr, Weebly and Zenfolio to create their online versions. It’s a great product for them to leave the program with and more times than not it helps them on job interviews during high school and in college. Here’s a post I did a few years ago about them.

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#18 – Staffs should be using Google Docs/Google Drive (or another cloud-based system) for copy

I guess it doesn’t need to be using Google Docs, but you do need some sort of cloud-based copy system. Once my staff turned to typing and editing stories in the cloud, feedback was received more quickly, stories were placed in the final folder well ahead of schedule and writing got better. Stories weren’t ‘Left at home’ and if people were stuck at home because of snow (which only happens on deadline) the writing process did not have to get halted. There are some articles on JEADigitalMedia.org that deal with using Google Docs in the high school newsroom.

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#17 – Require students to use email

Most students who come into your room will not list email as one of their top 50 things to do online. Regardless, they need to have one. I have my students sign up for a gmail account on the second day of class and it’s what we use to communicate throughout the year. Here’s why I make it a priority:

  • I want students to get an email address that is professional. I tell them that while sillyman92xoxoxo@aim.com was a pretty cool address to have back in 6th grade, it’s something that will make you look a little silly if you need to give our your address to an advertiser or out while on assignment. I work with all students to get them to create something that is much more professional looking and as close to their actual name as possible.
  • Currently, email is a major form of communication in the workplace and if we truly are supposed to be preparing students for life after high school we need to be stressing to them that proper email communication is important.
  • I also like using email communication to work with students on their communication skills. Early in the year I often get emails from students that aren’t edited and don’t have punctuation. I use this as an opportunity to work with them on proper formal communication.
  • This is also another great way to be able to work with students on responsible use of digital communication.
  • Finally, it’s a great way for students to get information and handouts that can be archived and retrieved at a later date.

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#16 – Create Reusable Handouts

So many times I’ve said, “I really need a handout for that.” A lot of the skills we teach are the same from year to year from cutline writing to sports recap stories. While it takes time to create handouts, the time they save, if done right, can be invaluable and allow the staff to focus time and energies on other things.

Make a list of handouts you want to create, start with the basic skills staffers need to know. Create a template for the handouts to make the creation process a bit easier. Make a new one every week or two and in no time you’ll have your own textbook. Here’s a handout I created on writing interview questions. The template was developed by Beth Phillips and I and used in our program at Francis Howell North High School.

If you’d like to see some more inspiration of some great lessons, check out another Next 26 series, “Great Lessons.”

Another great tool that allows you to create resources for students is Jing. Coupled with Screencast.com you can create video tutorials of computer skills and share them with your staff. You could even work to teach your staff how to use this tool to create videos and they could make their own for each other. Here’s one I created a while ago on embedding a Youtube video on your WordPress site.

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#15 – Back up your server regularly

Is the server that hosts all your staff’s pages, videos and photos backed up daily? It should be. If it’s not, get an external drive and make it happen. They are cheap and this advice will save you a major face palm down the road.

While I’ve had my staff’s work on a variety of servers in the past, our current one is the simplest, cheapest and I think most effective. We use a mac mini that has two external 3TB hard drives (roughly $150 each online) hooked up to it. The computer is kept in a closet and not used by the general staff. All the students in the journalism lab connect to that computer and save their work to it. It’s configured so the work actually all gets saved on one of the 3TB external hard drives. Using Time Machine on the mac, that external drive is backed up every two hours to the other external hard drive connected to the Mac Mini. Back ups run flawlessly (which was a problem in the past) and we can even use the back up software to go back three days on a spread version if we need to.

I didn’t always have regular backups of my students’ work. That was not smart. Luckily, we avoided DEFCON 1 and didn’t have a hard drive crash. I know others though who haven’t been so lucky. Macs and PCs both have great options for this. Make it a priority this year if you already haven’t.

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#14 – Go to conventions (and take students)

The ever-wise Kathy Craghead told me once I needed to get my students to national conventions and that it would be a great thing for my students and the program. At the time, I said I’d never take them on a trip like that because it made me too nervous. However, I gambled and took a group to Atlanta years ago to the JEA/NSPA fall convention. It was a great trip and Kathy’s advice turned in to some of the best advice I’ve ever taken. We now make annual trips to local, state and national conventions. It’s the highlight of the year for many students.

Work to get them to local, regional, state and/or national conventions. You need to get your students out of the classroom and show them there is a much larger scholastic journalism world out there.  While it takes time, the dividends it can pay for your students and the program are great.

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#13 – Send your students’ work to contests and in for critiques

I hear advisers give reasons all the time why they aren’t doing this. “The work isn’t ‘Pacemaker’ worthy.” or “We aren’t going to win anyway.” or “It just takes too much time.” Don’t shortchange your students. Make sending their work in to contests a priority. The feedback is good for your students and many students are motivated by earning outside praise for their work. In addition, awards, of any kind, are good publicity within the school and community for the program. Most of the national, regional, state and local high school journalism organizations offer contests and critique services.

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#12 – Join national and regional high school journalism organizations

Join national/regional orgs – State organizations aren’t the only ones out there, check into regional and national organizations as well. Some major national organizations you should check into are: Journalism Education Association, National Scholastic Press Association, Quill and Scroll and the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

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#11 – Join local and state high school journalism organizations

Become a member of your local and state journalism organization. It’s a great way to connect with advisers throughout your area. Many have conferences, critiques and workshops and your students can even get honored for their work. Look for organizations in your area at this list on HSJ.org.

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#10 – All journalism students in the school should help feed content to the web

If you want the student website at your school to be successful (and by successful I mean have students at your school visit it regularly) all journalism students need to work for it. “All students” includes but is not limited to newspaper staffers, yearbook staffers, broadcast students, photographers and introductory class students. Here are some reasons for that:

  • The more you practice something, the better you get. The web gives students one more opportunity to practice and get better
  • Web skills are something all students in 2012 need
  • The more students working for the website the more varied the content will be
  • The more students working for the site the more often it will get updated
  • The more students working for the site the less of a burden there will be on a few to generate content
  • The more students working on it, the more of your school you’ll be able to cover
Wondering what kids of things could be done if you have a lot of students? Check out what I do. It’s called the Rule of 3.

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#9 – Teach students how to get the most out of their phones

Most students have digital devices at their disposal that can capture and edit video, take photos and upload them, record interviews and post stories. We need to be teaching students how to get the most out of these devices and show them that while Temple Run is a great game, it’s not the only thing their device is good for.

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#8 – Teach all students how to post their own web content

All students need to be posting content to the staff’s website and they need to be the ones posting that work. The skills they learn by getting on the backend of a CMS are good for them and it helps from overwhelming one staffer or editor since they won’t be in charge of creating posts for everything. If you don’t want all students posting their work live to the site, most CMS programs allow you to set levels for users allowing them different access to the site. For instance, some students could be given access to create posts but not publish them, while others, like editors, could be given access to go in and edit and approve posts to be published. Train a few students to edit and post content so that one person isn’t serving as a funnel and holding them back — or having a nervous breakdown trying to keep up.

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#7 – Teach all students basic web and CMS skills

While it might be too much to ask everyone to learn HTML and CSS, it’s not too much work to teach students the basic skills associated with content management systems like WordPress or Joomla as well as some simple HTML and CSS. It’s a nice Gateway for them to learn some web skills without overwhelming them and it’s definitely a skill they will all be thankful for down the road. If you as an adviser don’t know how to do this, learn it or connect your students with someone who does. While there are a lot of great resources out there, if you’re looking for a book I recommend, the Head First series: Head First HTML with CSS and XHTML and Head First HTML5 Programming are great ones. In terms of learning WordPress or Joomla, while there are a lot of websites and Youtube videos about these programs, I recommend a subscription to Lynda.com. It’s a site with great video tutorials on hundreds of different programs and topics.

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#6 – Create multidimensional newspapers and yearbooks

Tell your stories as completely as possible. With QR codes or short link URLs (created from places like bit.ly or goo.gl) it’s easy and cheap to link to content online that compliments and expands what is going on in the yearbook and newspaper.

  • On the yearbook band spread, don’t just write a story and place some photos, include a link on the spread to an online audio file of the band performing their halftime show at a football game.
  • Instead of simply writing a newspaper story about last week’s pep assembly, create and add a link to a Storify of the event created by a staffer.
  • Don’t just write a story about a great goal keeper, link to video of him or her in action.
Work to tell stories how they should be told and work to tell them as completely as possible.

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#5 – Connect with the middle school/junior high

Don’t wait until students are in high school to let them know about your program, connect with students in middle school as well. Send copies of your publication to them, conduct workshops for them, invite them to come see your class in action.

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#4 – Recruiting is not optional

The days of sitting back and hoping students will stumble in your room to fill seats is over. With elective options tightening and programs with low numbers being cut, it’s important for programs each year, regardless of size, to get out and recruit new members. You can find some ways to recruit at: http://thenext26.com/the-next-26-recruiting/

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#3 – Teach social etiquette

Let’s be real, no one is really doing this today and that’s a huge problem. Most parents aren’t teaching it. Schools are typically scared of it and shy away. Yet, social media where many kids are spending a good chunk of their time communicating. Who better to teach them the power of these tools and how to use them for good and avoid trouble than journalism advisers? We really are doing them a disservice if we don’t try to help them here.

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#2 – Be social

Social media is not the devil’s tool. You and your staff need to be using it to promote the media program’s content, cover events live and connect with your audience. You can’t control how others use social media, but you can control how you use it. Along those same lines, the conversation about you will be happening whether you are on social media or not. You might as well have a presence so you can be part of that conversation.

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#1 – Your high school journalism program needs a website

I used to beat around the bush and tell people it was ok if their staff didn’t have a web presence. I don’t say that anymore. Your program needs a web presence.


It’s not an option, it’s a necessity. Newspapers need them. Yearbooks need them. Broadcast programs need them. In addition, if there are multiple student mediums at your school (newspaper, yearbook, etc.), the staffs need to combine forces and brand themselves under one site, rather than separate ones that fragment the audience. Not convinced? Here are 5 reasons why that needs to happen.

Websites are part of the current professional media landscape, they allow us to teach students skills they can’t learn in print along, and they are great publicity tools for our programs.

6 thoughts on “The Next 26: What staffs need to be doing in 2012-13

Matthew SchottPosted on  12:09 pm - Aug 4, 2012

Does anyone have any strong iPhone resources for sharing with our students?

Kyle PhillipsPosted on  11:59 am - Aug 7, 2012

Quill and Scroll, (one of the organizations in step #12), for those of you unfamiliar, is the honor society for H.S. student journalists. You only need to pay a registration fee once and then your school is set for life. When I started at Wash I found that the last few advisers hadn’t done anything with Q&S, but we had a membership, so it was easy for me to get things going again. They also sponsor an evaluation that yields tremendous feedback.

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