Starting a school newspaper is a mix of headache and opportunity. There’s so much for you to decide. From getting the right team to organizing distribution, there’s lots to do.
A successful school newspaper shouldn’t be a significant increase to your teacher workload, although it will take lots of organising at the start. Done right, you’ll be able to facilitate with a light touch, rather than feel you’ve been lumbered with an unwanted second career.
So where to start? This simple guide shares seven essentials you need to get your school newspaper up and running.
Tip 1: Find Your Team
Being in the newspaper team should be a privilege, not a punishment.
Avoid making it a compulsory club, something for students to stick on their CV, or a project a year group must complete.
Send out an advert asking for specific applications for each individual role. Share a simple job description so students with different interests will see the potential options. Offer interviews, just as you would with an actual job.
When you’re recruiting, watch out for these three types of students you want on your team:
Ask any teacher in your school, and they’ll name a handful of budding writers in their class. These keen students will form the lifeblood of your newspaper and relish the freedom to write for a real purpose. Invite them to interview for a role.
Make sure some students aren’t put off by their low literacy skills. Newspapers aren’t full of flowery prose, which will suit many less confident writers.
A newspaper is much more than just good writing, although this is essential. Look for students with a keen interest in improving the school. The ones that volunteer to be in a student council, or to be prefects.
They will enjoy making a difference through raising topical issues and pushing for positive change. Just make sure they’re not over-stretching themselves by volunteering for everything.
Don’t forget that a newspaper takes a lot of organizing. You don’t want to spend your evenings doing all the work.
Students with good organisation and leadership skills are great for editor and subeditor roles. They can commission the work and chase late submissions to reduce last minute panic before publication.
Tip 2: Get the Organization Right
Now you’ve handpicked the perfect team, let them decide the name of the newspaper. From the start, you want them to have as much ownership as possible. Let the age of the students determine how much involvement you must have.
Help them plan how they will run the newspaper. They will need to consider:
- How long it will be (encourage them to make it manageable – they can always expand later)
- Whether it will it be a print paper, digital, or a mixture of both
- How often it will be published
- Who is in charge of each area/ section
- Who has overall responsibility for each edition (you could use a rota)
Choose the style elements everyone will use (called a style guide) to avoid students wasting lots of time playing with fonts and formatting. This means all articles will feel like they are part of the same newspaper.
Tip 3: Plan Regular Meetings
It’s a good idea to join your students for their meetings to oversee what they plan to include in each edition. They’ll need support to agree details like deadlines for submission and who is responsible for what. Offer to take the minutes for them so they have a record of their final decisions.
Rather than wasting lots of time thinking of new ideas in the meeting, ask them to come prepared. Offer an incentive, like merit points, to help them remember. Use a planning template, like this one from First News, to help them organize their ideas efficiently.
Tip 4: Teach Your Students Essential Writing Skills
Writing a newspaper article is more than just reporting facts. Before your students write their first edition, teach them what they should aim for. Look at the structure of real news articles to unpick how they are organized.
This YouTube video is a great resource to help them master the basics:
Give your students a revision sheet with essential vocabulary and a brief explanation of what each word means. Offer a writing frame with question prompts they can use to help structure their work.
Don’t forget they must edit and proofread too. Show them how ProWritingAid can help them learn how to write effectively as well as check for basic spelling and grammar mistakes.
The in-app articles, quizzes and videos will make writing for the newspaper a fun way to learn more about writing well. Read to the end to find out more about how you can use ProWritingAid in the classroom.
Tip 5: Create a Shared Code of Values
A school newspaper should be a positive force for change and improvement, reflecting the interests of the students. What you don’t want are pages of gossip.
Discuss ethics and create a code of conduct all writers must adhere to. This should include appropriate language and a definition of slander. Remind students that their newspaper represents the school and will be seen by the head teacher, governing body, and parents, as well as other students.
It’s your responsibility to make sure all contributions are appropriate, honest, and legal. Teach your students about fact checking and plagiarism. Discuss rules around the use of images. Most students will be unaware that they can’t just use Google image searches. Introduce them to sites like Pexels and UnSplash to find free images.
Tip 6: Show Your Students Writing Role Models
Your newspaper offers a potential career path for your budding journalists. Approach your local newspaper to see if a journalist would be interested in becoming a mentor figure. Organise special events like virtual Q+A sessions or visit your local newspaper offices to inspire your students.
Use social media to find journalists with an interest in promoting young talent. Keep your school library well-stocked with newspapers written for children. Many offer resources to use in school that will help improve the quality of your newspaper.
Tip 7: Promote Your School Newspaper
Once you’re ready to publish the newspaper, think about how you can distribute it to the widest audience. Could you share it on the school website or through social media? Will copies be sent home for parents and added to the school library?
Make your school newspaper important to everyone. Every class could have a set time to read it together. Mention it in assemblies and give copies out to prospective parents and visitors. The more the students see that staff value your newspaper, the higher profile it will have.
At the end of each year, you know some of your students will leave. Don’t make any one person indispensable. You can plan for understudies to shadow key roles to train them up in plenty of time. Recruit new talent each year and host regular events to make them feel like a team.
Make being on the newspaper team something to aspire to. Give them a few perks of the job to enjoy. Feature their names (and photos if allowed) prominently next to their articles. Look for competitions you can enter to win awards.
Keep improving your newspaper by measuring reader numbers. Use surveys to evaluate what doesn’t work and make changes accordingly. A successful newspaper isn’t a static thing. It will develop to meet the needs of your school.
Starting a new school newspaper is a challenge but, once you get going, the routines will become familiar. For many students, it’s a wonderful opportunity to write for a real purpose about the things they care most about. You might even inspire some to pursue a career in journalism.
It’s essential you distance yourself from the paper. Whilst you might facilitate, you don’t want to be stuck doing all the work. The newspaper team should see you as a mentor rather than the editor. Find the students in your school who have the energy, enthusiasm, and dedication to make it work. Empower them to take the lead and create a truly student-led newspaper.