I had a million questions and concerns when I wrote my very first news story. And it wasn’t even for my high school paper. It was just a practice assignment.
How was I supposed to format the story? Which font should I use? What size should the font be? How do I know which quotes to use? How do I do this? What do I need to fix? And so on and so on.
So, this post is dedicated to a list of things I wish someone would have told me when I first started writing for my high school paper. And this also acts a suggestion to high school newspaper advisers to have a college journalist visit sometime early in the year, before all the “real” work starts, to put young, stressed out minds at ease (or, possibly, stress them out even more) about what they are getting into.
1. Avoid email interviews like the plague.
In high school, I relied on email interviews far too often, and I can guarantee that my stories suffered because of it. And most of those interviews were with students or teachers. It’s really not that hard to walk down the hall or down a flight of stairs to meet with a teacher in person. You’re going to get better quotes, be able to read body language and you can ask follow up questions on the spot, instead of waiting to hear back via email. Plus, email gives the interviewee way too much time to think about their responses.
2. Establish a beat system.
One of our biggest issues (no pun intended) at my high school paper was coming up with story ideas. We didn’t have press releases bombarding our inboxes as starting points. Every idea in the paper was staff generated. If we would have had a beat system set up for more than sports, there is no doubt in my mind that we would not have had a shortage of story ideas. Some ideas for beats could be athletics, counseling, library services, PTA, school board, band, choir, English department, social studies department, etc. The possibilities are endless. Is there a new class being taught next year? Is the school year being extended next year? How many awards did the band win at its last competition? These are things that you can find out ahead of time, rather than through word of mouth, to make your publication as current as possible.
3. Get added to the school district’s media list
School districts absolutely love to send out press releases about every, little (and big) accomplishment. Granted, not every press release will relate to your high school, but that doesn’t mean they don’t matter. Create an email for the newspaper that the adviser and editor in chief have access to. Talk to the school’s communications department about being added to its media list. If nothing else, this could start a “district news” column, similar to a news briefs section, but it’s strictly about the school district.
4. Cover school board meetings
I won’t rant about this one again, but head over my previous post if you haven’t done so!
5. Stay in touch with upperclassmen after they graduate
Upperclassmen have a wealth of knowledge about the goings on of the newspapers, at the high school level just as much as at the college level. And 99 percent of the time, they won’t have a problem with an email or a phone call about how to do one thing or another. Plus, keeping that professional relationship alive can help with selling subscriptions, increasing readership and potential recommendations down the line. Just to prove a point, I can honestly say I’ve been out of high school since 2009, and I have subscribed to my high school paper every year since. And I’ll continue to do so for the foreseeable future, even though by the next school year, I won’t know a single person on staff.