Up until this year, Glen Rock High School students would have each month found their student newspaper, the Glen Echo, stacked high on tables throughout the school. But in a fast paced world, where most teenagers and young adults, especially, get their news from online sources, the print publication was quickly becoming a vestige of the past.
So when Jason Toncic entered his first year teaching English at the school and advising its student paper, it was clear that one of his first tasks would be adapting his journalism class to changes in the industry. This culminated in an online edition of the paper, which the Echo launched Tuesday.
“I wanted students to have experience with an online paper before they went off to college,” Toncic said. “The print paper, while certainly nostalgic for a lot of us, is quickly being out-moded.”
The paper turned to School Newspapers Online, a company started in 2008 to provide the publishing software and templates necessary for managing a news site. The company has helped nearly a thousand high schools and colleges with the transition from print to web. The Echo will release two print issues this year to smooth their transition.
While some of the staff members were initially nostalgic for the ink and paper of years past, they soon realized that the new format would give them a chance to produce content they could not have before.
“I’m able to write video game reviews now, which I wasn’t able to do in the past. And more students want to read about that,” said Dean Sponholz, the paper’s business manager.
“A lot of it just has to do with the timeliness of it,” added Toncic, “because when you have a print paper it just takes so long for it to go from the writing stage to the reading stage. Right now I can get an article from a student in the morning and get it up a couple hours later. So they can write about issues that are germane for that very day.”
And with multiple weekly updates of the site, says Toncic, the experience improves not only for the reader but also for the journalism students honing their writing skills. “The writing style is much more akin to actual news writing as the stories are contemporary and require proper research and note-taking.”
The staff anticipates that school news will also be more accessible than in the past. Alumni and parents will now be able to easily access the site, where in the past most would have had to pay for a mailing of the physical paper or rely on students to bring it home. The Echo is also releasing an iPhone app.
The online format also facilitates contributions from a larger section of students, says editor Daniel Stein. “Last year we had to say no to some articles to conserve space, and I think so far every article that’s come through [this year] has been published.”
With unlimited space, there are more opportunities especially for younger students to publish, and the staff hopes that broader participation, along with a comments section on the page, will facilitate a better dialogue within the high school community.
“We have about 30 staff members,” says Stein, “and each one is involved in a sport or club. So together we really form a collective representation of the entire school.” With the broader participation that the new format offers, that seems unlikely to change—even when so much else has.