Slow Death of the [School] Newspaper

newspapers. This pic from the US where some cities had many each day...


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The last few years has seen the painful demise of com­mu­nity news­pa­pers world­wide. Sadly, most newsprint pub­lish­ers big and small strug­gled to fol­low their own read­ers to the online world. Yeh ha…

This trend is seen in edu­ca­tion cir­cles too. In spite of schools and par­ents invest­ing heav­ily in iPads and IT, most schools are still rely­ing upon printed newslet­ters to dis­trib­ute infor­ma­tion. It’s bizarre. School web­sites are typ­i­cally a sta­tic brochure for­mat, assem­bled by IT staff or design­ers. Yet a school web­site should have replaced paper, serv­ing up daily or weekly news items, with young writ­ers and edi­tors in con­trol. More focus on fresh, news­wor­thy con­tent and e-learning tools. Things that drive learn­ing and sprout new ideas, more com­mu­nity involve­ment.

Yes, it’s hard to give up the old ways

iPad-Classroom-newIt just proves that most adults and insti­tu­tions find change hard. Yet our youngest cit­i­zens like my own chil­dren and grand­chil­dren (aged 7 & 9 years), thank­fully aren’t so restricted. Their iPads, not paper are the new ways they get infor­ma­tion and learn.

Sadly though, too many resort to using uncon­trolled social media chan­nels like Face­book. Younger school chil­dren espe­cially need to con­verse and work in a more mod­er­ated, safer and struc­tured envi­ron­ment than this.

Yet why shouldn’t local schools have web­sites pro­vid­ing secure por­tals for their stu­dents with daily news, forums and home­work sup­port? Even the abil­ity to instantly share con­tent and expe­ri­ences with other sim­i­lar schools across NZ? The need for this is likely greater at pri­mary and inter­me­di­ate level than sec­ondary, instill­ing good online habits early — See­ing online as an edu­ca­tional resource, not just for enter­tain­ment and gaming.

What we can learn from newspapers

Although most news­pa­pers failed dis­mally to update to the new world order, they nev­er­the­less under­stood their mar­ket at the time. They knew that engag­ing read­ers was the key. To have a pub­li­ca­tion that was rel­e­vant, nicely laid out, bro­ken into sec­tions that made sense. They also had a great team of writ­ers, artists, jour­nal­ists, sub edi­tors and edi­tors to con­trol what appeared each day or week. Edi­tors, writ­ers and jour­nal­ists drove it all, with graphic design­ers, IT staff and print peo­ple in support.

Pro­duc­ing a news­pa­per (be it paper or online), is actu­ally a superb model of how a group of peo­ple with diverse skills can come together to achieve a beau­ti­ful end result — A real life exam­ple of team­work that our young chil­dren could ben­e­fit from and take part in…

But, it seems that when it comes to web­sites today, the geeks and graphic design­ers have taken over. Con­tent, reader engage­ment and edu­ca­tion takes a back seat. No team­work. Why did this occur? Likely because build­ing a school web­site just seemed too hard.

Word­Press — The per­fect school pub­lish­ing and e-learning platform

But today, with easier-to-use online pub­lish­ing tools more freely avail­able, writ­ers, pub­lish­ers and even our chil­dren can take an active, pos­i­tive role. The IT staff and graphic design­ers can again take a back seat, with writ­ers and authors in con­trol, as they should.

Web-CMS-Market-Share-20121The free, well-proven open source tech­nol­ogy called Word­Press has the dom­i­nant mar­ket share. Why do peo­ple love it? Sim­ply because it is quick to estab­lish, giv­ing them the abil­ity to quickly self-publish and main­tain mate­r­ial online with­out the need to involve IT or design peo­ple. How­ever, if you do have a spe­cial need or want to brand or super-charge the site, there’s thou­sands of skilled devel­op­ers [like us] world­wide to help, extend­ing it with cus­tom themes or plugins.

A self-managed pub­lish­ing depart­ment — No fuss, no big overhead

Word­Press, locally hosted, allows writ­ers, blog­gers, edu­ca­tors, even pri­mary school chil­dren to safely add con­tent and pub­lish mate­r­ial online.

deadlineIt’s quite unlike social media, blog­ger, google­docs or wiki chan­nels that remain chaotic and rel­a­tively uncon­trol­lable. Although sel­dom appre­ci­ated or widely utilised, the Word­Press user work­flow struc­ture closely mim­ics that of tra­di­tional news­pa­per or mag­a­zine pub­lish­ing business.

There’s roles for sub­scribers (read­ers), con­trib­u­tors (stu­dents), authors (senior stu­dents) and edi­tors (teach­ers), ensur­ing the needed processes are in place allow­ing mate­r­ial to be edited and checked. Other roles can be gen­er­ated too, as can seg­men­ta­tion of con­tent by group, topic or class­room, like news­pa­per sec­tions — A safe, super-efficient struc­ture for schools and diverse com­mu­nity pub­li­ca­tions where many are con­tribut­ing content.

p.s. The use of Word­Press in NZ schools isn’t new. Already used by 70+ schools and thou­sands of stu­dents. The first site setup by a NZ teacher for his stu­dents occurred in 2008.

Where to learn more of Word­Press in Schools?

ticket-wordcampThis month there’s the key annual event that cov­ers this and other top­ics, Word­Camp Auck­land held on Sat 26th July. This is a non-profit, low cost edu­ca­tional day for Word­Press users, cost­ing just $25, incl lunch. You can come for the day or just drop in for a cou­ple ses­sions. It’s still not too late to signup, so do it now before you miss out! You won’t be disappointed.

logo-meetupIf you can’t make it, then join the local Word­Press Meetup group and come to our monthly meets.