Help me start a student newspaper.
January 3, 2007 1:18 PM   Subscribe

I've been assigned with starting up a high school's student newspaper. Only problem is I don't know where to begin and need your help!

I as the director of information systems at a Catholic School with 200 high school students where we haven't had a student newspaper since the 70s. Recently, a few students inquired about starting up a student newspaper. As the school's IT person, the principal has asked me to help lead up starting the newspaper. Only problem is I have no idea where to begin- nor does most the staff.
A few things I'm curious about:
-Software. We have licenses for Publisher 2000. Would this be sufficient to publish a newspaper on, or at least get a few issues going to see if it's worth while? I'm not thinking anything super-snazzy to start out with. Just 4-6 pages maybe once a month. If things go well, can move up in the world from there.
-What to include in a newspaper? I'm assuming students will have ideas, but as the facilitator, I would prefer to come in with a general framework of what will be included.
-How much time should the students and I look at investing, especially seeing as we will be starting this from scratch? Time isn't necessarily a concern of mine. Rather, I'm trying to figure out how often we should get together to meet deadlines.
-Know of any decent high school newspapers to get ideas from? My high school had one, but nobody even read it. Obviously, if I'm going to invest my time into this project, I'd enjoy it if people actually read the paper.
-General ideas or suggestions, particularly considering I'm merely the IT dude here and have never worked on a newspaper staff and am assuming neither have the students. Other staff will probably help with editing (my major weaknesses in this whole project) and maybe write an article or two, but the bulk of the organizational process will be left up to me.
posted by jmd82 to Media & Arts (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Prep News was my weekly school newspaper in high school. It was weekly, and there was actually an extra ten minutes tacked on to Friday homeroom so that students could read it (or not).
posted by notsnot at 1:26 PM on January 3, 2007

I think you'll probably be able to figure out the software portion, as you are an IT person and doing something relatively simple, however, if you can, it would be awesome for your kids to have access to Adobe InDesign.

What to include? All kinds of things. Standard news and school happenings, of course. Have the students brainstorm. Write feature stories on interesting students and what they are doing, faculty, etc. Write about sports. Write about music and movies and things that students will want to read. It's important to have some solid news, but you'll also need to include places where your students will be interested in reading and writing: that is, opinion and A&E type stuff. Most student papers can be thought of in four sections: News, Opinion, A&E (or feature) and Sports. Try and frame your stories in these categories.

How much time? Well, if you're talking about a once a month type of thing, four to six pages, you won't need much more than three hours a week, except on the final week before production, when you'll want most of the staff available for at least an hour a day for editing and so forth. I think that's probably an overestimate, actually.

Don't look to other high school newspapers for inspiration, look to some of the better college papers. Grab ideas for stories and design from them.

General ideas... well, I want to say just have fun. Newspapers are a ton of fun to work on, particularly high school papers. Be relaxed with the kids and give them plenty of room to share their ideas. Brainstorming is really, really key in high school newspapers. You'll want to get your entire group together and do this regularly, coming up with interesting ideas for stories that the rest of the student body will read. What you're talking about doesn't seem like too much work, so you should be able to have plenty of fun with it. Good luck!!

(Sorry about the quick post, I'm sure I left out some stuff but I'm short on time.)

Last thought: I'm currently a professional journalist, if that somehow adds any weight to my comments, and much of the reason I chose to continue the field was due to my experience at the high school paper.
posted by dead_ at 1:29 PM on January 3, 2007

I've done a few really great-looking newsletters with Publisher. There are some tips for Publisher layout and design here, and some links to tips on starting up a student newspaper here.
posted by iconomy at 1:45 PM on January 3, 2007

I was one of the editors-in-chief of my high school newspaper, and we were ranked one of if not the best nationally. I still have the complete archive of all the issues produced while I was there, and a good number from before that. If you'd like me to send them to you, drop me an e-mail (it's in my profile here) and I'll find a way to get them to you. I'm also more than happy to answer any questions you come up with throughout the process...dead_ seems to have done a good job for now.
posted by awesomebrad at 1:46 PM on January 3, 2007

I was more or less editor of my high school newspaper, so I'll pass along what info I can remember.
  1. I've never personally used Publisher 2000, but it should be fine for your purposes. All of the basic stuff you'll need to do can likely be done with few problems. One caveat: back when I was in the on-demand printing world, Publisher files were the bane of my existence. If you're going to use Publisher, I'd recommend printing the newspaper yourself, or bringing in hard copies to reproduce the old-fashioned way.
  2. General campus news, weekly lunch menus, construction updates, sports, club news, holiday schedules, photography essays, music reviews, student art/writing, contests etc. are all good things to start out with. Your students will be able to come up with stuff that's relevant to their school.
  3. At my high school, we had an entire class period devoted to the newspaper. This may or may not be reasonable for you. I'd say how much time you should spend on the newspaper is dependent upon how often the newspaper will be published. For a weekly paper, I think a daily class period is about right. For a monthly paper, perhaps once- or twice-weekly meetings.
  4. Can't help on this one, unfortunately.
  5. Putting out a paper really isn't that hard. One of the most important things is that the students really feel like the paper belongs to them. My teacher let me write music reviews and interview people that I was interested in interviewing. Because of that, I was proud of the paper and encouraged my friends to read it. With a little bit of direction and a good kick in the butt, your students will turn out a great paper.
Best of luck!
posted by Shecky at 1:49 PM on January 3, 2007

Wow, quite the challenge. I taught high school journalism for a few years, and enjoyed running the paper, but it was a lot of work. I can't comment on Publisher 2000 -- we used PageMaker 4 on Mac Pluses, back in the day -- but in general, you want to empower the kids to do as much as possible. Help them learn how to do this. You are the facilitator and advisor, but they will get the most out of the experience if they get to call as many shots as possible. Of course, since they approached the administration, they seem to be bringing the requisite enthusiasm.

Speaking of which, make sure you have a very good idea about where the administration stands in regards to topics that the paper can cover. I was fortunate and did not have too many confrontations, but they are inevitable. Make sure the students understand that a newspaper has power, and that power must be used responsibly. Don't allow the students to use the voice of the paper for petty reasons -- make every story count.

As for content, a good rule of thumb is to make sure the paper stays student-centered. Cover events at the school, such as music, theater, and sports. If students want to comment on national issues, they can do so via the Op-Ed page, but unsigned editorials (on the Editorial page) should have a student/school focus. Students like seeing their names in print, so articles that mention a lot of students by name are always good. Also, make sure the writers get out of their comfort zone and write about all students, not just the most popular ones.

Finally, determine a publishing schedule and stick to it. For a first year effort, publishing once a month would be great, but expect at least 6 weeks lead time for the first issue. The schedule can be increased to every other week once the staff learns the ropes. Is the paper going to be self-supported through advertising? Is it going to be published on newsprint or via photocopy? Will it be tabloid sized or letter sized? Whatever the format, make sure the students understand that they can't fix mistakes once things are in print, so they must make every effort to do a good, careful job before they publish.

I could go on, but I think this covers some valuable ground. Good luck -- I hope this is a positive experience for you, and I hope the students enjoy the experience. When done right, it's a lot of work but it's also intoxicating to the kids to see their work in print and in people's hands.
posted by mosk at 1:54 PM on January 3, 2007

I was an opinion editor/graphic designer in college and a reporter for a couple of years afterwards.

The important questions here is what you, the school (admins included), and the students wish to accomplish.

If the budget allows I'd go for Adobe InDesign or Quark, as those are industry-standards for layout and would actually prepare the kids quite handily for the real world resume-wise.

If you have a local paper, call them up and see if you can arrange a field trip or speaking engagement with an editor/staff writer. They'll be more than happy to do it, and there's nothing like seeing the paper roll off the presses. They may even offer to print your paper for you for a very reasonable price, although as a Catholic school you won't get as much support as a public school (unless you are big in the area). This will also be something to think about later, as the first issues will be easiest to produce in-house.

Buy an AP Stylebook (actually several would be better, one for each student editor).
Recruit or assign a student to be in charge of sports, administrative (board-level) issues, school news (policies, notes from the principal), "soft" school news (achievements, awards), and events (holidays, calendar of events, prayer requests if your catholic school does it, etc.). Depending on work load, each kid can recruit an "assistant" or simply farm out work to various writers.

Work with the English/Language Arts and Art departments. Get a cheap digital camera with a flash.

Start each class by reading or handing out sections from the local paper that have issues that might effect students, such as skate park construction, etc. National issues are a must too, and this will be more homework for you than them.

You may want to drop local elected officials a letter or phone call and let them know about your project. They'll inundate you with invitations to ribbon-cuttings and the like, eager to glad hand not only the press but cute little kids as well.

I'd say aim for about 2-5 hours (so they can write stories on the school computers) after school week, and plan to release a paper every month or every other month until you get all the kinks worked out.

Don't break deadlines.

Make sure the paper's name is voted on democratically by it's participants and approved by the principal. Model your masthead on a paper you like.

Figure out your format (broadsheet, tabloid, etc.). Since your student count is small (figure on an extra 50-75% for proud parents, archiving and unforeseen shortages), you could probably run them off after hours on a printer capable of stapling and collating.

Archive everything in hard copy.

Work with the yearbook department if they exist.

You can email me specific questions later, once you get started.
posted by JeremiahBritt at 1:55 PM on January 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I don't know what the school's goal is in running this paper - is it merely to HAVE a paper, or can there be a more generic goal? What I'm driving at is that it seems like what everyone always bemoans the absence of in a high school education is critical thinking. So rather than starting a newspaper and recruiting students maybe you should recruit students interested in starting a paper.

If you took that approach you can task them with writing a business plan (however brief) and mission statement that describes what the paper will cover. You (they, with your help) discuss and research how often they should publish. What the layout should be.

There's good finance lessons in there too. What's the cost of printing going to be if they use school resources (labor, ink, depreciation, wear & tear) vs Kinkos? What do other schools charge for advertising (legwork/research, a good reporter skill)? What kind of donations can you get to start things off and what would motivate people or businesses to donate (tax & salesmanship)? Can they find community people to come talk to them about a newspaper/reporting (interviewing, salesmanship, career advice)?

Sorry if this is completely off base from what you are looking for, but it strikes me as a near idea and something you could launch immediately to prep for a running paper next school year...
posted by phearlez at 2:43 PM on January 3, 2007

My brother runs his high school newspaper, so I asked him for some thoughts, which follow. If you have any questions, email me and I'll pass them along; I'm sure he would love to help.

I've been the Editor-in-Chief of my high school newspaper for two years now, and we've come from having next to nothing to winning awards on the state and national levels. Hopefully some of my advice will help.

I think you're definitely taking it the right direction by starting small. The key early on is to get people reading the newspaper and excited about working on it. Once you have a good product that people enjoy and want more of, you've got some solid footing to build from.

Something else to consider is how you're going to pay for the newspaper. Your school may provide some sort of funding for the newspaper, but we are completely funded by advertising sales. Everyone on staff is required to sell two ads, and we wind up making about a $500 profit each month after we've covered the $600 printing costs. This can be a great way to make money for new software, new hardware, or staff trips.

If money is a problem and selling ads isn't an option, look into some newspaper grants. We wrote a $3,000 grant last year for the Newspaper Association of America Foundation, and purchased a laptop and two high-quality cameras. It helped us tremendously.

As far as using Publisher goes, that may work well for a while, but Adobe Creative Suite (complete with InDesign, Photoshop, and others) will really give your paper a professional touch. I think you can get a copy for about $300 off an educational software website. You might consider starting with Publisher to get your staff going, and then begin next year using InDesign to layout the newspaper.

With layout, be sure to generally base your pages off of one dominant image, and don't interrupt the flow of stories or bump adjacent headlines. Just try to make every page as readable as possible to the average reader. If a newspaper has a bad layout, readers won't even pick it up.

One of the first things I would do is buy and Associated Press Stylebook, which will give you a better idea of how to write like a journalist. There are also lots of free resources online that tell you how to write for news, features, etc. (the writing styles are different).

For help on what kind of staff structure you need, check out this PDF booklet produced by Auburn University. It's not the best, but it'll give you some idea of where to start. Also, make use of, which has tons of teaching resources, as well as hundreds of links to other school's newspapers. It's also good to look at college newspapers and professional newspapers for ideas.

The biggest tip I can give you is to localize your newspaper. High school newspapers are often notorious for writing vague, poorly-written stories talking about this celebrity or that college football game, and ignoring the stories around them. The way I see it, high school is just a smaller version of a city, so be sure to produce a newspaper that reflects the stories and interests of your students and teachers.

Good luck.
posted by SuperNova at 2:48 PM on January 3, 2007

I was a section editor and the tech guru for my highschool paper in the late 90s. My experience (as a student) worked like this:

We produced one paper at the beginning of each month, 16-20 11x17" pages. We had a staff of about 15 students -- one editor in chief, section editors for News, Op Ed, Tech, Sports, and "the centerfold" special section, and then reporters and photographers. The editors also wrote stories, though not as many as the reporters.

Our development cycle started with story ideas. Everybody was responsible for bringing in at least three leads at the beginning of the development cycle. Most stories were extremely local -- city or school-specific news. We'd put all the ideas on a whiteboard and then the editors would winnow them down, make rough wordcount estimates, and assign them to the reporters. I forget how many stories we had per section, but it shouldn't be hard to work out based on how much real-estate you have. Reporters had 3-4 stories, editors 2-3. We were given about 2.5 weeks to finish stories.

Everybody was also responsible for selling at least two advertisements. Our clientele was mostly local businesses that catered to students, and we'd call around and put in requests. We had a rate card prepared, and it was all run in a fairly business-like manner.

About a week after the stories were assigned, rough drafts would start trickling in and us editors would start roughing in pages. We worked with Adobe Pagemaker 6, and later 6.5, and followed the AP Styleguide (as mentioned above). The pica is your friend.

The remaining two weeks in the publishing cycle would be devoted to finalizing the layouts, adapting them to keep up with changing wordcounts, etc. Turn-around for the printing company we used was about 3 days, so about 4 days before the distribution date, we'd have a massive late-night in the office getting all the pages finalized and proofed, and then off to the editor. Initially we printed them on two 8.5x11" pages and manually lined up the pieces on layout board. I convinced the paper to start borrowing the 11x17" printer from across the hall and printing the final photo-ready pages that way, and then in my last year, we switched to submitting the pages as PDF.

So, to sum all that up in something that may actually be useful to you:

1- story ideas should come from students. You will need to be a guiding hand in terms of what is and is not appropriate for your paper. The administration's leniency (or lack thereof) will play a role. Try to let the kids make as many decisions as possible without getting you in trouble.

2- Pro layout tools rock. I second the Adobe Creative Suite option. See if you can get at least a few machines outfitted with that software. Educational discounts rock.

3 - Printing off-site is expensive, but good. Trust me, you'll want some pro dealing with the printing issues, not you.

Feel free to email me if you have any other questions. I'd be glad to share other information that I'm not remembering to share now, or clarify anything..
posted by Alterscape at 3:46 PM on January 3, 2007

I was managing editor of my high school newsmagazine (ranked #1 in the nation at that time), and I think it was the computer stuff that you are probably good at which was easiest for the kids to pick up on our own. Where we needed guidance was in things like reporting, writing, editing, photography, and design skills (which does not mean the nuts and bolts of using Publisher any more than learning how to write means learning how to use Microsoft Word). So I think you and they should be boning up on those skills as much as possible. And there isn't going to be nearly enough time or space here for you to learn that.

Join the Journalism Education Association which should be a good resource for you, and the conventions they run in conjunction with the National Scholastic Press Association are good places for the students and you to network, get critiqued, and have fun.

Notably the JEA bookstore sells many textbooks that should be very helpful in teaching yourself what the students need to know. I highly recommend starting with those. They will also sell books with clips from the best in high school journalism writing and layout, which should be helpful.

Another point is that I think you are seeing yourself as managing more of this than you should. You should get students to lead this project as has been said. Your role should be as an adviser and educator. I know you you see yourself right now as "merely the IT dude," but an appropriate adviser will have to go beyond that. I think it will be a lot more fun than being the IT guy.
posted by grouse at 4:06 PM on January 3, 2007

I'm also a high school senior/editor of our state/national-acclaimed-paper, and there's already a lot of great advice in this thread. From another thread, get copies of Newspaper Designer's Handbook if you can. It's a great book, and we used it. Very readable.

Towards the end of the year, we have a "senior issue", with superlatives, advice from seniors, and a list of the colleges each senior attends. This takes a lot of planning, of course, but everybody holds on to the senior issues, and they occupy a space on the mantle next to the yearbook.

We have "Business Day" a week or two before summer ends, which is a day-long scavenger hunt around the local neighborhood. We split up into groups, 1 senior/group, and they drive around designated neighborhoods. It helps advertise our paper and it's a lot of fun. Example: Each business card you get from a local business counts for 1 point, if you can get a business interested in advertising, it's 25 points, and if they actually sign a check, you get 1 point/dollar.

After the stories/photos are submitted, edited, etc., we have a "Layout Day," during a saturday. All the editors meet in the journalism room, we bring in food, and everybody finishes their layout. It's a great way to wrap up the issue, and there's usually a movie, some videogames, and scrabble in case you get done early. And we order lunch. Food is always good :]

We also sponsor a lot of events ("Eastside [our newspaper's name] Dodgeball", "Eastside Spelling Bee") to raise cash, and they're pretty successful.

Also, "Make our newspaper better" and "Quark Tips" [although indesign is better! :]

And my email's in my profile.

posted by theiconoclast31 at 4:08 PM on January 3, 2007

I was the editor-in-chief (and sole copyeditor) of my school's student-run paper for three years (2001-2004). I came into the school for my sophomore year; as a new high school, it had no paper, advisor, printer -- nothing established at all. By the time I graduated, we had a paper that'd won multiple awards.

It took a lot of effort. I can't tell you how much work the advisor put into it, and I put in at least as many hours (although, obviously, not as much experience). School ended at 2 PM, and I would regularly stay past 7 PM. This was in addition to a 90-minute class period every other day. Do you have students who will be this dedicated? Can you afford to make such a big commitment?

It's one thing if you want a "here's the lunch menu, here's a letter from the principal, here's the sports schedule" newsletter. A real newspaper will take time and effort. I know you say you want to start small and build up, but reputations can be hard to change. Starting from zero lets you establish your paper however you want it to continue. For examples, look to the greats, not to other high-school papers or to college papers or to local rags.

Although you'll want an off-site printer, look to the students for everything else. I wouldn't encourage articles written by teachers; it can and should be the students' paper. Try to have teachers edit as little as possible -- but definitely ask them all if there are any students they'd recommend for copyediting positions.

Try to get the students to specialize. The kid who always winds up managing the football and basketball teams because he can't play but loves the games? Sports editor. The artsy one? Get her to photograph on assignment. Web guy? He's on layout. Quiet one whose essays never need proofing? Hello, copyeditor. Try to get everyone, from all different cliques, involved. More bylines in the paper = more eyes trying to find theirs and their friends' = more people reading the paper.

Bottom line: If you say you're willing to shoulder 50% of the load, the kids will do 20%. If you tell the kids they're responsible for 100%, you may wind up only having to do 20% yourself.

If you let it, the paper will take absolutely all of your time. As I look back now, I realize how much the paper and related issues consumed our advisor's life -- despite his wife and three very young kids trying to draw him back to his family. If your outside commitments aren't as strong, and if you aren't willing to put your foot down, you can get drawn in very easily. If you don't want to dedicate your life to the paper and you don't want it to be crap, your only option is to get the students to become involved and responsible.

Let me know if you want clarification or more information about anything I've mentioned (or anything I haven't -- I can't fit three years' experience in one comment).
posted by booksandlibretti at 4:09 PM on January 3, 2007

For an example of a student magazine that I believe has been done very well, look at my school's Sentinel (That took me an hour to scan and collate! Ugh.)

My school allocates a budget to us and it's up to us from there. The students do all of the work, including finding a printshop et al. With the right kids on board, you shouldn't have to do any work at all. (Our staff liason certainly doesn't! ;-))

High-school students tend to love in-jokes as they make them feel in the loop and photos of school events (often with lame captions) so they can spot themselves and mates. My school's magazine is extremely popular and anticipated among the student and staff bodies alike, and I think it's mostly due to those two reasons.

I've recently taken over the helm of this magazine and I'm loving it and would be flattered if you asked me for any further ideas or suggestions. :-)
posted by PuGZ at 9:30 PM on January 3, 2007

I started off doing some newspaper stuff in high school using Publisher, but then had the opportunity to use InDesign and loved the flexibility - it also translated well into practical work skills down the road. The cost of licenses for InDesign were a bit prohibitive, but we managed to find a way.

As for content, check with the school's administration to see how they feel about running articles that may criticize the way the school is being run as those may surface at some point. At my high school, there were a lot of issues with censorship and a few people ended up doing an underground newspaper. Instead, we shifted from a newspaper to a magazine featuring student work, poetry, editorials and comics. If you can find students that are willing to take the publication and run with it, it will be a lot easier, as I imagine they will be willing to take the time to learn the software, and figure out what it takes to run a student newspaper.
posted by perpetualstroll at 12:07 AM on January 4, 2007

I was a writer, editor, and designer for my high school newspaper. There is some really really good stuff in this thread. Nailing down your scope and production schedule will help answer a lot of other questions. I know you said monthly, but I'd start out very small, like quarterly. I think we were monthly. I would also call newspaper advisors of neighboring schools to get a feel for staff design, questions about major issues, etc. Try to join some of the regional and national organizations, and get yourselves to a conference or two. As mentioned by perpetualstroll, because you're working for a Catholic school, you may run into issues with advertisements and content that the school doesn't approve of. Just be careful or run everything by them and be prepared to have to cancel something. I was at a public school and we had our fair share, so I can't even imagine how it would be at a Catholic school.

To answer your questions:
-Software: Publisher is probably fine, but it will really depend on how you're printing this. If you're going through a local press, you may need to provide files in a different format so it may be more up to how they'll take them rather than what you have. As mentioned, you can get Adobe products fairly cheap on an educational license.

-What to include in a newspaper? Allow students to pitch ideas to you (we used to brainstorm as a group and then assign out). We didn't really do "lunch menu" type stuff; we did stories on sports, our success in various state/national competitions, local events and concerts, movie reviews, technology news, dating stories, trend stories, etc. You'll be able to get access to wire stories so you can run actual news plus news from other high schools or content that's relevant to your students. We also had columns which were very popular with the students and features like top 10 lists and thumbs up/down, etc.

-Time: I would do quarterly at first to get a feel for everything. I would not do monthly. We had a staff of 20ish (it was a class like other people mentioned), plus an extra 5 writers and we were working until 2am the days before we had to go to press. I think we were maybe 16 or 20 pages. We met every other day as a class and then usually worked after school for a few hours daily. On deadline, we were there much longer.

-Decent high school newspapers to get ideas from? I LOVED this one paper in Iowa (I think it was the "Little Hawk" from City High School) but that's really more a matter of personal preference. People will read it if you have students' voices and news that pertains to them. Reading a "great" newspaper might only make you depressed.

-General ideas or suggestions: Try to enlist an English teacher to assist you in leading or at the very least in helping you edit. Be prepared to have the guidance counselor on hand if you have any issues with staff dynamics, etc. I see that you're fairly young, so I don't know if you'll face any authority figure issues or not. Mostly, stay uninvolved - it's their newspaper - but you must be the voice of reason and maturity. You can be a great mentor, but you're not their friend. Good luck.
posted by ml98tu at 7:08 AM on January 4, 2007

Response by poster: Once again, y'all rock. I could honestly mark every answer as a best one in some regard so I'm going to leave that for now. A lot of good information to get me going on this project.

One thing that was driven into me is the time factor. No way this will be offered as a class this or even next year. Definitely something I will have to bring up with the superiors to get their opinion. I'm leaning towards the quarterly production deadline for now. I was also planning on running articles by the principal, so that shouldn't be too much of an issue.

For now I will keep with Publisher but will move up to Adobe if things go well. I don't know how capable our printers are of doing everything in-house; will have to check with our communications director about that.
For now, the cost isn't an issue but the advertisement ideas are something I will certainly keep in mind for future reference.

As this all gets moving, I'll probably contact some people as more specific questions arise with all this expertise. Thanks!
posted by jmd82 at 2:18 PM on January 4, 2007

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