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9 areas you must cover on a school media outlet

What’s essential local news coverage at your school?

Challenge your assumptions

Students should discuss the types of “local coverage” that are most meaningful to news consumers. In-school events only?  School sports? Clubs and causes? Greater town/city issues that affect the school population? Lighting the path to national and world events and trends that lead to a better informed school community?

Proximity

  • Is your news organization taking full advantage of its close link to readers and nearby news?
  • Increasingly heterogeneous communities require attention to a variety of news that directly affects sizable segments. It’s an advantage if student news organizations can identify, segment and target their audiences.
  • Does your news organization have regular, systematic ways of keeping in touch with your community, with what its people think and care about, what directly affects their lives? Does it take advantage of the ties and contacts staff members have in their ordinary lives as potential leads for other student reporters to follow?
  • Does your newsroom culture encourage staff members to take pride in intensely local news?

Utility/Usefulness

  • Have you surveyed students to identify what types of news and information are most useful to them? Has the staff brainstormed this as well?
  • Do your online (and ink-on-paper) publications have one comprehensive, detailed daily calendar presented and anchored so that readers always can rely on it as the top-of-mind source?
  • When you find requests for information in reader comments, does that sound an alarm that perhaps the information should have there in the first place?
  • What useful information can your news organization provide that other local media cannot or do not?

Education

  • Who is the presumed audience for your education coverage . Students? Parents/ Teachers, administrators and staff? Taxpayers? Ordinary citizens who care about the future of the community?
  • Does your education coverage consist of only school board meetings and classroom features?
  • Does your newspaper plan education coverage?
  • Does your newsroom receive school board meeting agendas and does the education reporter read publications such as Education Week?
  • Does your newspaper periodically compare your schools to different and more successful schools?

Local government

  • Have you asked your local-government reporters and editors why your paper covers this stuff? What are readers supposed to do with this coverage? Are we giving them the right news and information?
  • Are we showing readers how government affects their real lives?
  • Does your newspaper cover government and politics as sport, based on getting opponents angry at each other, or as serious business?
  • Do your editing processes evaluate whether each government story will make sense to the typical reader, with sufficient background, context, clarity and helpful information?
  • What can your news organization do to help people connect with government in ways meaningful to them?
  • Do you seek out and report successful examples of public involvement?

Safety

  • Does your newspaper cover the social pathology of crime as a public-health issue or as a gladiator sport?
  • Have you objectively evaluated the level and impact of crime in your school and town? Are you overemphasizing it, at the expense of other issues competing for coverage?
  • Are you considering the direct and indirect effects of your crime coverage? Are those sensational details of individual crimes always truly necessary?
  • Are you too focused on the aspects of crime easiest to cover — the arrest, court appearances and trial? What about the victims and the criminal-justice and penal systems?
  • Do you seek out the context of crimes that adds sense and perspective? Are decreases in crime statistics as newsworthy as the increases were?

Spirituality

  • Is religion and values coverage taken as seriously as other coverage?
  • Do you consider the broader and deeper coverage of ethics, values and spiritual issues?
  • When you consider sidebars to major breaking news, do they include the spiritual, ethical or values angles when appropriate?

Identity

  • Does your staff understand that, taken as a whole over time, your news organization plays a major role in shaping a sense of school community?
  • If your school, or a sector of it, suffers from a lack of identity or a negative identity, how might your news organization approach it?
  • Is the staff sensitive to all types of diversity, including race, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic background, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, politics and those with physical and mental disabilities? Does the staff every brainstorm about ways to be more inclusive and project open-mindedness?

Recognition

  • How does your news organization recognize local heroes, Samaritans, achievers. Is it enough? What more might you do?
  • Is there a format for recognition in every section of coverage (news, sports, school life, etc.)?
  • It’s common to lionize sports stars; how about academic and artistic stars? Faculty and administrative promotions are news. How about achievers in public service?

Empowerment

  • Does the staff consciously use the power of its journalism to involve and mobilize readers?
  • What specific devices in might help readers learn more, get connected or take action?  Tips, links, RSS feeds, blogs and badges can help.

Adapted by Diana Mitsu Klos from ASNE’s Local News Handbook.

How does your news team define local coverage? Let us know at dmk@asne.org and we’ll add it to this list.