Over the past six years, Waverly’s student-run newspaper, the Hi-Spot, has had four different advisers. The high turnover of advisers has nothing to do with faculty incompetency, nor does it have to do with poor quality of student staffers.
Simply put, Hi-Spot has been caught in the middle of a perfect storm that has perpetuated the unfortunate rotation of leadership.
While the Hi-Spot has been--and still is--a quality student-run publication, the fact remains that the overall quality of the publication hasn’t reached its zenith; as its adviser, I knew that the staff was capable of the highest-caliber publication, but for some reason, we were unable to consistently achieve at the level I knew they were capable of.
The culprit for our staff’s inability to achieve greatness: a broken system that was focused on outmoded goals and outdated platforms.
Granted, I’m not an old timer (yet), but even a 27 year old is old enough to fall behind the whirlwind pace of media. The physical, ink-on-paper publications that I grew up reading and writing for are nearing extinction. Yet here I was, adviser to a staff filled with digital natives, and I was trying to push them to publishing a printed issue every two weeks instead of monthly. What a goose am I?!
It took over a year for me to develop the courage and conviction to look the staff in the eye and tell them: “You can be better, but I’m holding you back”.
Some of last year’s staffers that graduated are currently pursuing journalism degrees, and they are doing quite well for themselves. However, as I communicated with these alums about their college journalism experience, and after conversations with my college journalism professor, I was hit with the realization that I was, at best, doing a mediocre job of preparing Waverly’s journalism students for the professional world of media.
This painful--yet necessary--wake-up call was enough to prompt major changes. After a few weeks of discussions with Hi-Spot alums, the current staff, high school journalism advisers across the state and other trusted colleagues, the Waverly Hi-Spot was scrapped and the entire class and started from scratch.
Hi-Spot is a student-run publication. In order to honor this, the staff was asked to help recreate the newspaper from the ground up. After a few days of reviewing the very basic principles of journalism, the staff was challenged to come up with a mission statement that would fulfill these principles in a 21st century classroom, for a 21st century audience.
After much guidance and a great deal of teamwork, the staff and I were able to create an entirely new system that focuses on getting daily news out to our readership--which focuses primarily on the students of Waverly High School, followed closely by the faculty, parents, family and community members of District 145--via the platforms they are most accustomed to: digital, online media.
This week marks the rollout of our new system, which includes new writing requirements, grading, staff infrastructure, a focus on utilizing dominate art and inforgraphics as well as other digital tools such as Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, podcasts, Vine and Instagram, to name a few.
The Hi-Spot has launched a brand-new, user-friendly, visually-engaging website that we will use as our primary means of reporting the newsworthy events at District 145 for the remainder of the quarter.
While the changes occurring are stressful, painful and angst-inducing for all staff members, they have plodded forward, trusting that the changes will not only better serve the readership for which they write, but also challenge them in ways that will promote significant growth that will better prepare them for a career in journalism.
And if one were to stop and think about it, isn’t that the whole reason high school journalism exists?