By coincidence, sister schools Catlin Gabel and Maru-a-Pula just launched their inaugural online issues just a week apart. It’s great to see both schools embracing an online format.
I worked a bit with the CatlinSpeak staff, and a few thought-provoking questions came up.
What is an “issue” in an online format?
The staff plans to publish four paper issues and some additional number of online issues. To simulate an “issue” on the website, the initially planned to schedule all of the posts to publish on a specific date. In reality, it was too difficult to troubleshoot design and layout without publishing the first batch of articles immediately.
The online format forces some shifts in thinking. When breaking news happens, why not publish it to the site immediately? Major news websites no longer publish issues but rather post articles continuously as they are written. Can a school newspaper generate enough traffic without announcing new issues? Can students devote focused attention to writing and editing amongst their other school commitments?
How can we get students to read more serious articles?
CatlinSpeak had a terrific launch day as measured by site traffic, nearly 2,000 hits in a single day. However, look how steeply traffic dropped off after the home page.
Serious articles about global travel, the presidential election, etc. only received low double-digit hits. How many of those read the articles all the way through?
How much technical website expertise should a journalism class develop?
The CatlinSpeak staff had high standards for layout and design but was not able to take on the CSS customization required to make the necessary changes. Given that the design is likely to stay relatively static now that the site is launched, how important is it for the staff to develop CSS skills, compared to spending time on journalism and publicity skills? Is it okay for adults to do most of the CSS work at the start of this project, to help the staff achieve a good launch?
What collaboration is possible between Maru-a-Pula and Catlin Gabel students?
We have two student newspaper staffs writing serious articles about their schools and communities. How should they collaborate together in ways that will be worth the effort required? What could students learn from the similarities and differences in their journalistic priorities and methods?
What is the role of social media in these online papers?
The Catlin Gabel staff chose Twitter for a very practical reason: the ease of posting links to external news articles and Catlin Gabel sports scores. They are not really using it for networking, but it is effective for presenting updates quickly and concisely.
Journalism and 21st Century Skills
This year, CatlinSpeak changed from a club to a half-credit lunch class. This promotion underscores the legitimacy of a journalism class within a classic academic program. That said, why not fully integrate the class within the English department’s elective or required course of study? Communication, presentation, and global citizenship are key 21st century skills. Why not five them full status in the school curriculum?