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Student newspaper turns to the Web: Virtual publishing saves money, time

Dec. 5, 2004

By Kerrie Frisinger
Daily Press
Newport News, Va.

Early one fall morning at Hampton High School, journalism students shook the chill from their bones and rubbed the sleep from their eyes. One student placed her head on her desk as a classmate skimmed through his math book. A few gravitated toward the classroom computers.

"I don’t mind if they work on other things because I know they’re going to go out after school and work," said journalism teacher Gary Smith.

This school year, the Krabba Highlight, Hampton High’s newspaper, has more than doubled its publishing pace: four editions this semester, compared to three throughout the entire 2002-03 school year. The difference? Now they’re publishing completely online.

In the process, Hampton’s site has climbed to the most popular of any school using the service.

Since the American Society of Newspaper Editors launched its hosting service, My High School Journalism, in 2002, more than 200 schools have joined. Grafton High School used the site last year, and York High School published its first online edition, in addition to a print version, this fall.

Smith, like many of his peers, learned of the Web site last summer while attending ASNE’s two-week training program for high- school teachers at Hampton University. The organization recently pulled the program from HU after the university administration confiscated the student newspaper, but will continue the institutes at five other universities nationwide.

Journalism teachers and ASNE administrators say online publishing provides incentive for students as well as training for those who plan to enter the real world of journalism, which increasingly relies on multimedia technology.

"More and more people are getting information online," said Jaime Miller, journalism teacher at York High. "This allows us to reach a larger audience."

For Hampton High — one of the rare schools to completely ditch newsprint for online service, according to ASNE’s online director — it’s also a money-saver. A single print edition of the Krabba Highlight costs $250 to $300, Smith said. Other than a one-time $25 application charge, ASNE’s service comes free.

"Instead of going out and selling ads and spending hours and hours doing that, they can spend hours on their stories," Smith said.

Two stories from the Krabba Highlight were selected in October for the ASNE national edition. After posting its first online edition, three pieces from York High were chosen last week.

The national edition is not a competition or a top-10 list, said Craig Branson, online director at ASNE.

Each week, he said, administrators choose stories that best capture the teenage experience on topics like gym class, driver’s education, smoking or teen pregnancy.

"We want to run stories that are of interest to teenagers, high- school students everywhere," Branson said. "It’s empowering. You’re a 16-year-old girl on the outs with your boyfriend, you’re getting Cs in school and your story is chosen for the national edition."

Smith encourages his students to use reporting and writing to make adults listen to them. Rather than complain about the school cafeteria, he suggested earlier in the year, why not write a behind- the-scenes story about the people making the food?

Matt Stearn, 16, took the bait. His story was one of Hampton High’s two articles to go national.

"Certain people need recognition in the school," said Stearn, who took Smith’s Journalism I class last year but continues to write for the Krabba Highlight.

Hampton High’s main Web site links directly to the school’s newspaper site, which draws more than 300 hits a week. Many member schools use similar measures to attract readers, said Branson, adding that nostalgic graduates often find their alma mater’s online newspaper through searches on Google.com.

A Hampton High graduate stationed with the military in Iraq recently wrote to say he’d been reading the paper online, Smith said. But he encourages students not to write for attention, but to achieve journalistic values.

"We just write our stories, do our job, being fair and responsible," Smith said.

Copyright © 2003, Daily Press. Reprinted with permission.