Student journalists branch out

School paper puts content online, focuses on writing articles adaptable to all forms of media

November 19, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,special to the sun

In the journalism room at Aberdeen High School, Casey McVey sat at a computer editing sports articles.

Across the room, Steven McClaine wrote a book review while Elizabeth Blasdell edited an article about her recent visit to the Baltimore Basilica.

As deadline loomed, the students were working to put the finishing touches on the latest edition of The Blue and Gold, the Aberdeen High School student newspaper.

This year, the program is about more than the newspaper. In recognition of the struggles facing the print media, the curriculum for the class of about 27 journalism students includes a new wrinkle this year. The students are learning "convergent" journalism, in which students write news content that is adaptable to many media.

"The idea that there is a way to write our news stories and have a hard copy, Web and a broadcast version of our newspaper sounded really elegant to me," said Susan Burnett, the school's newspaper adviser.

The idea for the program came when Burnett attended a program sponsored by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. During the two-week program, Burnett learned about newspaper trends, creating blogs, using technology and creating award-winning newspapers.

The students post their newspaper articles on a Web site, sponsored by ASNE, a Reston, Va.-based membership organization for daily newspaper editors, where they can be read by people across the country.

Started in 2003, the site includes content from 489 high schools and about 90 middle and elementary schools. It provides an alternative medium for schools struggling with the cost of printing newspapers, said Diana Mitsu Klos, senior project director for ASNE.

"The biggest cost in producing a newspaper is the cost of printing," said Mitsu Klos. "Young people spend a lot of time online, and school newspapers need to be where the readers are."

To participate, schools pay a one-time fee of $50 and receive resources including a book about best journalism practices. The site appeals to schools where newspapers are in danger of being eliminated, she said.

"Twenty percent of the newspapers that post on our host site have gone to no print editions," Mitsu Klos said. "And that number is only going to increase. The host site is a microcosm to what daily papers are already doing."

The Web site is only part of the program. Convergence journalism means that news organizations have to be content providers, and not just operate as newspapers, Web publishers or TV stations. They have to offer their articles in all of the media outlets, said Mike McKean, chairman of the convergent journalism program at the University of Missouri.

It's a transition high school students should make easily, he said.

"Technologically speaking, high school students are well ahead of their older counterparts," McKean said. "They already know how to take pictures and send text messages with their cell phones, create blogs with compelling information that people want to read, and make digital and home movies. It's scary trying to keep up. But these are the skills needed to converge a newsroom."

Burnett hopes to teach her students the potential influence of newspapers, she said.

"A newspaper in any form is a powerful thing," she said. "The paper gives students a place for every voice to be heard. It's a place where they can bring issues within the school to light."

It's a venue where students can speak out about what affects them the most, said Elizabeth Blasdell, a sophomore from Edgewood. She is working on a story about a The Chocolate War, a book by Robert Cormier.

"My story focuses on books like this being banned and what I think about that," said Elizabeth, who was preparing for an interview for the article.

The school newspaper is a place for students with a range of interests, Burnett said.

"If you can find something a student is interested in, whether it's video games, or sports or music, or whatever, the newspaper can be the most unifying force in that student's life," Burnett said. "We want to reach out to any student who has something to say. And we want to make it available in a place where other students will read it."

The potential to make a difference is what motivates the students.

"This is a way for us to better our community for future generations," said Aria Gelina, a 17-year-old senior. "No one really pays attention to what goes on here, and I think people should know about the problems we face."

If they can't reach students in print, they will resort to other media, the Aberdeen resident said.

"Last year we tried to sell the paper for 50 cents a copy, to cover the costs of producing it," she said. "Very few students were reading it. But now, I think a lot of people will read the paper online and we will reach people we couldn't reach any other way."

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