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Teaching Tips

We are collecting tips from high school newspaper advisers nationwide on how to run student publications and deal with the issues from administrators, students and parents.

10 story ideas


Steve Row, Journalism Education Coordinator, Richmond Newspapers Inc.

  • WALL POSTERS. Create a “wall poster beat” especially for first-year journalism students. First-year journalism students would be required to bring in three story ideas at the end of each week based on posters they saw on the walls around school. The story ideas must be accompanied by the names of at least two sources for information and at least two questions to ask each source.
  • SCHOOL MASTER CALENDAR AND UPDATES. Use the official school calendar and its updates as a way to check upcoming events for possible stories. A good monthly school newspaper should look at least six weeks into the future, or at least two weeks past the publication date of the next newspaper.
  • PTA NEWSLETTER. Not all schools have one, but many do, and they usually are crammed with names, dates, honors, etc. But they usually only devote a sentence or two to each item. Your newspaper office should be receiving one regularly and looking for story ideas. The PTA organization itself, along with various booster clubs, also can be a source.
  • SCHOOL NEWSLETTER. Be sure you are on the mailing list / distribution list for any school newsletter that is aimed at faculty and staff.
  • SCHOOL DEPARTMENT HEADS. Encourage department heads to keep the newspaper informed about new programs, students who win awards, future competitions, interesting achievements by faculty / staff, etc. Guidance (perhaps one of the most under-covered offices in school) and athletics must be included in this list, too, and the school should have its own copy of the official list of clubs and organizations and sponsors, which probably is updated at the beginning of each school year. Establish a similar relationship with club sponsors/advisers on interesting club projects and activities.
  • OTHER SCHOOL NEWSPAPERS. You need to know what other school newspapers in your district are reporting on and how they are designing their papers. You should be exchanging papers with other schools in your district and beyond. If you see a good story idea from another school paper that can be turned into a local story about your students, steal the idea.
  • LOCAL COMMERCIAL AND COMMUNITY NEWSPAPERS. Your newspaper should be getting the local commercial paper daily, or at least once or twice a week, and your staff should be combing the paper for story ideas about schools, education and youth (not to mention sports). Look for story ideas to steal. (Don’t plagiarize it.) Same for the weekly suburban-type papers, often distributed free.
  • SCHOOL BOARD / SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION. Most school boards and/or administrations publish a newsletter, which you should be getting. Most school boards and/or administrations have a public affairs or public information officer, whom you should know. (This is the person who answers questions from the press.)
  • SCHOOL BOARD MEMBERS / LOCAL GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS. If your school board is elected, find out who represents the district where your school is situated and get to know that person. Know who the chairman of the board is. Know who your local district’s elected official (city council, town council, county supervisor) is. These people can provide information on big education issues (budgets, boundary changes, important policy changes).
  • NEARBY AREAS OF COMMERCE AND BUSINESS. Stories about the portion of the community surrounding the school often relate to the business districts around the school. Occasional story ideas: new businesses moving in and needing teen employees; new traffic patterns around school because of new development; overviews of summer job hiring, holiday job hiring. And don’t forget that these businesses might be sources of advertising revenue

Ideas from the 2001 ASNE High School Journalism Institute

Teachers attending the 2001 ASNE High School Institute at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., say it’s a real challenge to get their newspaper staffers to come up with story ideas. Since professional journalists are expected to develop the majority of stories that they work on, the teachers at the Institute brainstormed a few ways to get their students to take the lead.

Here’s a sampling:

  • Regularly ask, “Are we writing stories that reflect the entire school and not just one group of students?”
  • Brainstorm around a single topic. For example, a discussion about the school cafeteria could lead to stories on the nutritional values of the food, whether accommodations are made for vegetarians, why students tend to segregate themselves by race at the lunch tables, the hard work that cafeteria workers do for generally low wages, the selling of sodas and restaurant chain food in the cafeteria, efforts to recycle, etc.
  • Another example is to build on an offhand comment like, “Biology class is so boring.” Keep asking “why?” Interesting story angles will tumble out, such as outdated books, an overcrowded class, no labs, no funds for field trips, etc.
  • Ask the students what their friends are talking about.
  • While conducting a post-mortem of the current edition of the paper, be sure to ask which story was the big “talker” or piqued the most interest among readers? Get the students to break it down into why a particular story “clicked” with teens.
  • On Monday, ask students what they did over the weekend. At one school, this led a story about how the lives of today’s teens are busier than what their parents experienced during their youth, from less sleep to more hours spent at after-school jobs.
  • Ask the students about their hobbies. Let them do almost all the talking!

Teachers attending the 2001 ASNE High School Institute at the University of Texas at Austin brainstormed “evergreen” story ideas that can be made interesting with a wide range of sources.

  • What kinds of cars do students and teachers drive?
  • Tips on staying physically fit and healthy.
  • Favorite doughnuts and snack foods.
  • Shadow community professionals — interview them about their careers, etc.
  • Profile famous alums.
  • Find out about historical markers near school and profile the school’s history.
  • Migrant workers in your community — they may be the parents of some of the students at your school.
  • Food recipes — after-school snacks, ethnic foods.
  • Run a trivia contest in every issue.
  • What do you feed a football player (training and diet regimens).
  • Profile students with parents who teach on campus.
  • Car care tips.
  • Interview teachers who graduated from your campus.
  • Zero-tolerance laws (students who’ve been punished under these laws and the views of administrators and parents).
  • First impressions of high school freshman (contrast with seniors).
  • Sound off — pro & con about an issue (with headshots of interviewees).
  • Project stories on health issues such as anorexia or diabetes.
  • Parents’ careers and the world of work.
  • Students in the digital age.