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Archive for September 15th, 2007

First high school micro-site launched

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

One of the first things I was told I would be charged with when I came to the J&C was helping create high school micro-sites at each of the county’s high schools.

The first of those sites finally launched Friday: Today at West Side

today at west side

I’ll be honest, this was the product of a lot of hard work by a lot of people. (Full disclosure: hardly any of it was really mine.) My task was to help brainstorm what we could include and who we should involve. My main and hardest task was then to use the connections I had made — little though they were, especially when we first started and I had literally just arrived — and try to get the high schools on board. Once I had administration on board and kids lined up, my editor and our online team really took over and made this happen. Though, the enthusiasm of the principal and students helped a lot.

Our first attempt, even with my editor at my side, was a huge strike out. An adamant no-go. And rather than fight the administration, we moved on.

Fortunately, I think the only person more excited about the concept than we were when I pitched it was the WL high school principal. He saw it for exactly what we hope it will become: A great way to get more news out about the good things happening in his school.

I’ve often commented that there could be a half dozen education reporters in this community, and we’d still never be for want of a story. That’s one of things I love and hate about my beat. I always have more than enough I can do, and I will always be missing things I wish I could get to. That’s the void the printed Schools Page we launched this spring and these micro-sites will help fill.

The micro-site, if you can’t tell from the screen shot, is mostly populated by student work. There’s a tab for J&C headlines, but the content you read or see in every other section is WL student work. We decided to team up with the high school’s newspaper to have a guaranteed stream of reliable students and content (they publish every three weeks, but the kids are really excited about the idea of being able to do breaking news between that cycle). We’re also continuing a relationship with the art classes to run student photo galleries (click on the “latest media” tab). We’re working on technical issues of uploading student films from the film lit class, which previously had been seen by a small audience and uploaded in a non-uniform way on YouTube. Eventually we will include the school’s daily Red Devil TV segment on the site. Comments will eventually be implemented on the stories — another thing the kids are excited to have is feedback on their work.

In each of the cases, it broadens the audience of the kids’ work, AND gives the community more insight into what’s happening at the school.

It’s also a great learning opportunity for those students. They are the ones uploading their content into our CMS, and they’re the ones calling the shots on story placement and breaking news stories (something they’ve never been able to do before because their Web site was literally a collection of PDF archives). I can’t think of a newspaper who wouldn’t like to have a staffer who can say they did those things as a sophomore or junior in high school.

But a key component of the site I haven’t mentioned is the wlhsVoice feature, which you see in the right corner. It’s basically the GetPublished feature, but we’re hoping kids who aren’t on the newspaper staff or in the art classes or who just want to be published take advantage. We’re leaving it pretty open to whatever they want to write about or shoot pictures of and, as long as it’s clean and not libelous or anything, we’ll put it up on the site.

You know the past few weeks as I’ve been out at the local schools, especially the high schools, later in the day when classes are out, I’ve really been reminded just how much a school really brings together the community. In a lot of cases it really gives the community an identity and a gathering place. When it really gets off the ground, this site, we hope, will be a way to get more focused and deeper coverage of the school and community on a level that the J&C could never provide on our own. And it will give the power to be heard to the people, so to speak, most impacted.

Eventually, now that we have this template down and once we work out some kinks and figure out our system, we’ll try and port this to the other high schools in our county as we planned. I can’t help but think even the original no-go will give a green light when they see how this positively affects the community.