Newspapers are involved with their local schools: A Higher Learning

July 31, 2012

By Stanley Schwartz
Pub Aux Managing Editor

Newspapers inform. Newspapers educate. It seems the most natural of partnerships—newspapers and education.
For years publications across the country have engaged in Newspaper In Education programs, bringing their papers into the classroom—sometimes giving young readers their first entry into those pages. The traditional NIE programs, in fact, were exactly about building circulations with young readers, as research showed they were more likely to develop the newspaper habit when they read in schools. But smaller newspapers with smaller circulation departments have tackled the education partnership in a different way.
That is why the board of the National Newspaper Association realized that it was time to recognize everything else newspapers do, outside of the classic NIE programs.
“Newspapers, especially community newspapers, have always covered their schools,” said Tonda Rush, NNA chief executive officer. “In addition to using the paper as a teaching tool in the classroom for these children, these local publications cover various sports, academic competitions, graduations, school board meetings, bond issues, fundraisers and PTSA meetings to reach students and parents. They provide leadership in the community in support of educational programs. They offer internships. They help with the school newspapers. There are lots of ways to promote education, and community newspapers have their fingerprints on most of them.”
“It’s because of this, we decided to expand the scope of NNA’s NIE contest,” said NNA Contest Chair Jeff Farren. “Newspapers do a lot for their communities involving all aspects of their school systems.”
Recently, NNA conducted an informal survey of how its member papers cover the schools in their communities. Of the papers that answered the survey, all of them covered their local school board meetings.
The dedication of community papers to their schools is evident in the amount of space that coverage takes in their pages. On a weekly basis, more than 50 percent of those who responded to the survey use 11 percent to 30 percent of their space to cover their schools in some capacity. But what’s truly interesting is that 41.6 percent said they use 31 percent to 50 percent of their page space each week to cover their schools.
The amount of school coverage on these newspaper websites was close to the coverage done in print. Eleven percent to 30 percent of the respondents use 48.8 percent of their site’s space for school coverage, while 31 percent to 50 percent said they use 27.4 percent of their site’s space.
Nearly every paper in the survey said they use some form of submitted school news from local citizens.
“It has to come from credible sources and meet our standards, and it is subject to standard editing,” said Drew Davis with the Jesup (GA) Press-Sentinel.
“We accept press releases from our local school district, community college and other colleges. Also we accept releases from parent/teacher groups,” said John Etheredge with the Oswego (IL) Ledger-Sentinel.
Photos are usually the most submitted items from local people, the survey showed.
Some publications also accept regular columns about local schools, community colleges and universities.
Of those who responded, 71.8 percent said they run columns by school superintendents. Forty-six percent said they run columns by students, and about a quarter of the respondents said they run columns from teachers.

Special sections
When it comes to specialized coverage, newspapers know they can focus on specific school events with a special section.
Nearly three-quarters of the respondents said they produce special sections to feature various aspects of their school systems.
From sport sections to back-to-school and graduation sections, newspapers cover as many aspects of their schools as there are functions. Some do prom sections others do school board election sections and still others highlight youth fairs, as well as produce honor roll sections. One paper produced a 20-page section to mark the 50th anniversary of the organization of its unit school district, and another prints a supplement on standardized test results.
Matt Adelman, with the Douglas (WY) Budget, said his paper does sections with “sports team photos, previews of sports seasons, special sections devoted to state championships, a section about academic clubs and social organizations at schools, a Letters to Santa section written by primary school students, a school resource guide before the start of school, a school bus schedule with additional resources at the start of school, a back-to-school section, and multiple safety pages around the start of school and the end of school.”
Some papers, under the guidance of the paper’s staff, produce special sections done entirely by students, including student-designed ads for local businesses.
Newspapers are also big on supporting community groups that seek entrance to the educational system.

School support
When it comes to publicity for school fundraising events, 66.3 percent of the respondents said they offer some form of coverage. Fifteen percent said they offer support for adult education.
“News is news, not advocacy,” said Stephen Waters, publisher of the Rome (NY) Sentinel Co. “We do want to partner with our TMC/Sunday to address illiteracy and, what is worse, aliteracy—knowing basically how to read but not knowing why you should.”
One paper said it covers peer mentoring and student mentoring but requires paid ads for fundraising events and advocacy (bond issues).
Newspapers also offer support outside their pages. They have internships, instructional assistance, support for student clubs, sponsorships of teams, fellowships for classroom teachers and special recognition of student who excel academically.
“Our reporters also regularly speak in classrooms and we assist when asked on school newspapers. We also have a teen page in our paper each weekend through the school year, which we direct,” said Susan Miller Warden with the Missourian Publishing Co. in Washington, MO.
One paper prints the local high school paper and inserts it into the local publication.

Literacy and Education
Community papers also support literacy and education. The majority of the respondents said they do lectures at their schools and more than half, 57.1 percent said they assist with student newspapers.
Many of them participate in Career Day events at their schools.
“We offer Book Buzz, which involved students writing reviews that we print and seeking sponsors to purchase books to put in classrooms, libraries, etc. We also sponsor Family Reading Nights in the communities we cover, as well as a Run to Read (walk/run events) and author visits,” Miller-Warden said.
“The local school has a blog to encourage reading among students that they combine with their classroom reading program. Our newspaper provides links and material for the blog,” said Mike Gainor with the Pine City (MN) Pioneer.
“Our monthly student achievement pages have been a success and that is our newest endeavor,” said Eric Hamp, with the Houghton Lake (MI) Resorter.
In order to pay for all this coverage, newspapers need to find ways to link advertising to how they cover their schools.
Those who answered the survey said they offer sponsorships for their special sections.
One paper offers a graduation tab and full-page ads of graduates paid for by schools or their sponsors; also there are online photo galleries of sporting events or other school events, which can be sponsored by local advertisers.
“Much of our school news revolves around sports, and the special sports sections (four a year) are strong sellers. We also sell congratulatory ads around special accomplishments in academics and sports,” said Adelman.
One paper started a video production service, which produces video content of school programs and community events for the Web with support from advertisers.
“We sell ads for all our special feature pages—district wins, state competitors, etc.,” said Brook Curtiss with The Plainview (NE) News.

Traditional NIE programs
Many of the papers that answered the survey offer traditional NIE programs, where copies of the paper are delivered to schools along with lesson plans on how to use the publications as a resource. More than half, 58.1 percent, created their own programs, and 41.9 percent said they use a program provided by their state press association.

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