Double truck only for the really big stuff

It happens all the time, and it’s probably happened to you: “What should we have for this month’s double truck?”

The idea of filling two full newspaper pages on a single topic is intimidating, and many staffs believe they must run an in-depth story each issue. Associations, like NSPA, who run contests bear some responsibility for the idea that the natural spread in a newspaper has to be some sort of in-depth coverage. It doesn’t. In fact, it shouldn’t unless the topic really merits two full pages. One-page features can be handled very well. Additionally, organizing the paper in a way that allows for flexibility — one-pagers as the default and double-trucks when necessary.

One way to structure the paper is to develop sections that will yield specific content. Some ideas:
• You probably have a sports section, but do you have a page for leisure? The leisure page could cover everything that isn’t a school sport — hiking, video games, Ultimate Frisbee, Scouting, hobbies.
• Develop a page on health, and you will never have a shortage of topics. Scour newspapers such as The New York Times, which offer a bounty of national news items with health-related news pegs. Localize them. To do this, simply ask questions: Is this happening here? Why? What do our readers need to know about this? Why? I guarantee you could find something health-related to write about (and localize) every week.
• Try a section on something that is of high interest to your student readership. Why not a section about family or faith? Maybe you could have a series of stories that showcase the activities families do together. Make it a quick-read format and go photograph the family. A few of these could be prepare at once and printed over several issues.
• Teens are just entering the world of money and finance, and they need more consumer education. A series of helpful stories on how to get a checking account, be disciplined about saving money, get a credit card, buy a car (and the insurance) or rent an apartment would be of great value to your readers. Alternate story forms would make these more approachable.

Once you have structured the paper into sections such as these, the story idea-generation process is easier. Instead of asking “What should we write about for the double truck this month?” you’re now asking “What can we cover for leisure?” “What’s the most important health story this month?” For a winter issue in leisure, do a creative take on some snow sport. As the weather warms, switch to other pursuits: horseback riding, hiking, geocaching, etc.). Health in the spring could be how students cope with allergies. It’s important to find students to use as your “representative sample” — kids at school who tell the story. Otherwise you just have an encyclopedia report on the topic — boring and useless and something no one will read.

When the editors commit to a section like those mentioned above, it forces better content overall. You have to develop a structure of sections that works for your paper and your school. Don’t just get locked into News, Opinion, Features, Sports (and sometimes A&E). Think about what your readers need and want, and create a paper that serves them. Content ideas will come naturally.

And when you really need two pages to tell an in-depth story with multiple components, it will be obvious. Your discipline in providing the most appropriate space for each story will pay off.