Coverage ideas: Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic has come to affect every aspect of life: school, work, home, social. For a period of weeks in the late spring and early summer, nearly every story in media had some connection to the pandemic — only a few other stories broke through, and even they typically were presented in the context of a stay-at-home order, social distancing or health/safety.

The pandemic also provides student journalists with numerous coverage opportunities. Every school news outlet should have a regular beat related to the pandemic, and every yearbook should have at least one spread to cover these events. So much student journalism is reactive to planned events and spot news, and there is a disappointing lack of enterprise in most student media. Of course you will want to cover the daily or weekly events — changes in policies, cancellations. The challenge with coronavirus coverage is to find ways to cover the impact or the less obvious stories, most of which will not fit neatly in a daily news story. But part of the work of student journalism is to document not just events but feelings, opinions and trends as a way of capturing history of this time.

Below are two story ideas that relate to the coronavirus pandemic. There are more, such as lasting economic impacts and sports.

Social-emotional learning. One of the biggest areas for potential stories will be the social-emotional learning and wellness around returning to school after being isolated for so long. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations to reopen schools for in-person learning because of the negative effects of social isolation. The Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) also issued guidelines and tools to “Reunite, Renew and Thrive.” A related but distinct story that deserves coverage: gaps in equality and achievement that have been exacerbated through the pandemic.

Focusing questions (What is the point of this story? So what?) for main story:

  • What has the school done to assist students and adults with the transition back to school this fall?
  • How are students and adults in the school coping with the transition back to school — likely distance learning at first but eventually in person?
  • What are some ways students and others recognize that they have changed? What are they doing to accept that change or to try to counteract that change?
  • Are there new activities in school (through classes or advisory programs), clubs, lunch or afterschool activities that are designed to assist with this transition and to help people cope?

Possible sources:

Students and teachers, counselors, school psychologist, mental health professionals in your community or at a college/university

Possible sidebars:

  • Quotation collection about feelings of isolation or how sources have fought isolation or set goals
  • Tips from metal health professionals on how to stay connected or to deal with isolation
  • Listing of resources or of curricular/pedagogical changes
  • Profile of one person’s experiences
  • Compare distance learning with the revised in-person format or a hybrid plan

School opening and safety. Late summer was a time of much debate about whether and how schools should reopen. Soon after the first schools began the school year, among those that started in person were several coronavirus outbreaks. Schools likely spent a lot of time and funds on reorganizing school to be safe for distance learning or in-person classes.

Focusing questions (What is the point of this story? So what?) for main story:

  • How have people and the culture changed? Did people follow stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines?
  • Did students, employees and parents feel that the campus was safe for in-person instruction? What made them feel safe?
  • What is the budget impact from distance learning or to modify campus for in-person classes?
  • Even when social distancing was relaxed, how comfortable were people with “returning to normal”?
  • What role did the teachers’ union play in the decision about returning to school?
  • What are some of the longer-term impacts and lasting changes from the need for different types of instruction (revised in-person, distance, hybrid)?

Possible sources:

Principal or other administrator, school budget officer, school nurse, teachers and students, public health official in your community or at a college/university

Possible sidebars:

  • Profile or Q&A of someone regarding their experience recovering from COVID-19 — or their experience of having a relative with COVID-19
  • Listing of physical changes for safety such as modified water fountains or plexiglass partitions in the food-service area
  • Listing of other changes to the curriculum or teaching methods, such as an ability to work remotely and a desire for more group work (or continued independence)
  • Quotation collection on what made people feel safe or unsafe
  • Quotation collection about the first day that was unlike any other
  • Examples of individual safety routines
  • Gallery of face masks and how people balanced safety with personal expression
  • Timeline of school reopening decision and key events
  • Statistics list of expenses: distance learning (computers, wifi hotspots, software, training), in-person classes (plexiglass partitions, tape markings, new furniture), cleaning, transportation, operations (thermometers, masks, tests)

 

Story ideas from Summer 2020

Each summer, several topics emerge that are appropriate for including in student media with a localized angle. Some of them have cultural impact, while others are one-time news items that can be made specific through an interview at the school or in the community. I compile these into a list that I use in teaching summer workshops and to spark my own students’ ideas for coverage beyond the obvious.

The list reflects what I have read, heard and seen in my own media diet, so it comes from my perspective. It’s not meant to be comprehensive or exclusive of other ideas.

Many of the topics are related to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic — school safety, economic impact and changes to learning. In many ways, the topics are intertwined as it is difficult to separate and isolate health, economy, education and civil rights. Main topics include: coronavirus and school; schools and sports; college and the application process; cancel culture and removing monuments or named spaces; Black Lives Matter, race and reckoning; journalism, media and objectivity; and of course the Nov. 3 election.

The full Summer 2020 list is here. It probably will be updated.

During distance learning, revisit goals and roles of student media

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has made an impact on and changed everything about schools. Most schools are starting the 2020-21 school year in full or partial distance learning, and everyone has at least a plan to consider this possibility. The changes forced by distance learning can also be an opportunity to revisit the goals and roles of student media.

These nine concepts provide a foundation for you and your staff to think about, to which you can aspire, to measure how well you are doing in your school and community, and ways to improve.

This narrated a video (12:57), which I prepared for a summer workshop, explains the nine concepts. A slightly older version of the slideshow is available (without narration).

I have updated these from when I first encountered them several years ago from my friend and mentor, Bob Greenman, who by then had retired from a successful career as a journalism teacher and newspaper adviser in New York City public schools but who remained active through conventions, workshops and active networking with students and advisers around the nation. These and other concepts are presented on posters available for download from the Columbia Scholastic Press Association.

Advisers: Help students cover the world honestly, truthfully, transparently

Note: This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 edition of Communication: Journalism Education Today from the Journalism Education Association.

“Is it really OK to be gay?” In the 2003-04 school year, that was the headline for my students’ newspaper cover story and double-truck package on their peers’ attitudes toward the increasing presence of LGBTQ people in media at the same time as LGBTQ issues were front and center in politics. I was teaching and advising at Wenatchee High School in central Washington state. It’s a couple hours’ drive through the Cascade Mountains from the progressive city of Seattle, but at that time, when it came to differences in culture and politics, it might as well have been in another country.

On TV, gay and lesbian people were moving from sidekick to center stage — “Will and Grace” had been around since 1998, but the summer of 2003 brought the debut of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” followed a couple months later by “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.” State legislators debated same-sex civil unions and marriages, and Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2004.

The convergence of LGBTQ people in mainstream entertainment and in political news was an important news peg for my students to turn the lens on their school and examine the atmosphere their peers created and experienced. At my current school, 15 years later, editors found a perfect news peg for coverage: Results of the school’s comprehensive wellness survey included data about sexuality and identity.

It’s an adviser’s job to help students cover the world around them honestly, truthfully and transparently. We must help them to tap in to current sentiments and ask how national or regional stories affect them. So it made sense in 2018-19 to explore the role of the school’s LGBTQ+ student alliance in a more accepting school climate, where many LGBTQ students said they didn’t feel the need to join that club. Another story explored why relatively few male students were openly gay at school — fewer were “out” than the data showed — while female students were more likely to be comfortable openly expressing their sexual orientation (about half of the girls said they did not identify as exclusively heterosexual).

Advisers must hold students accountable for their coverage by asking editors and staff what motivates that coverage. Members of this community should be covered authentically, not just in June for Pride celebrations or milestones, or LGBT History Month, which is typically in October to coincide with National Coming Out Day on Oct. 11. And to be effective, advisers must also learn history and use accurate terminology to be able to coach and question students.

Whether in a print newspaper or yearbook, online or broadcast, journalistic work also documents these attitudes and experiences for history. Student journalists can help the audience understand and make sense of the world around them, and the audience needs stories that explain or show people’s lives and perspectives. If done thoughtfully and not with tokenism, sources will feel well-represented, and the audience will be enlightened.

Print versus online doesn’t have to be either/or.

With budgets tightened and not likely to recover soon, dozens of scholastic journalism programs have scrapped the printed newspaper in favor of a digital presence. Many reasons exist why developing a robust news website is a good idea, but the price should not rank high.

A post to the Journalism Education Association email discussion list in November 2013 discussed the possibility of eliminating most print editions and replacing with a news website and a few print publications. The teacher wrote that she struggled with what those issues might include — should they be oriented toward news or features? Maybe they should be a separate magazine?

It’s easy to scrap the printed edition and cook up a flashy website with a carousel of rotating stories — video and audio, too. But doing so does not maintain the best options for storytelling.

The key is finding the right balance among all platforms. The printed page is unmatched for large displays, especially of visual storytelling through photography, illustration and graphics. It also provides the serendipity of discovering stories simply by leafing through the pages.

If I were starting a scholastic news journalism program today, I would build it with three components in mind: a comprehensive news website with an online-first philosophy, a well-curated printed magazine for special coverage and a social media presence that encourages building community.

Start with news online. Focus there.
Develop and maintain an online-first mentality. Doing this means changing the paradigm from publishing that is restricted by quantity, dimension and frequency of the print edition. When news happens, be ready to cover it. When a story is ready to publish, publish it.

The website should be the source of daily news and information for the campus community. Frequent posts encourage return visits, which reinforce the position of the website as a news source. They also create opportunities for community engagement and increase traffic for revenue potential.

Though the website is a primary news delivery vehicle, it will evolve into a storehouse of information — sports scores archive, past coverage of long-term stories, and even a place to watch live coverage of events like sports games and graduation.

The website would also be a place to showcase the best multimedia work — slideshows, audio and video clips and comprehensive stories with contextual linking and related content. Take advantage of the unique aspects of the digital platform. Because of the new coverage opportunities, students will be engaged constantly — no more ebb-and-flow cycle where some reporters have no work because the editors are designing the pages.

Add companion special-interest printed publications.
With most routine news items pulled to the website for publication, the print edition’s role must be redefined. Topics with greater depth can be explored in print.

Develop a publication where each edition carries a single theme — music and other arts, sports, health and fitness, food, family, faith and spirituality, the environment. Take a broad topic and find ways to approach it that go beyond providing encyclopedic reports. Use the topic as a trunk from which individual stories sprout and branch. For example, one topic could be competition. Stories could come from sports, of course, but also from video games, sibling rivalries and the pageant world. Build in a community engagement piece with a contest before the edition, and publish the results — or post them online.

Keepsake editions are another great example of a niche print product. Repurpose older stories and photos into a new package with some additional context. Championship season? Best of the decade? School or community anniversaries? All of these provide opportunities for keepsake editions.

These print editions also allow for new advertising opportunities. A businesses or organization that might be new or an infrequent advertiser could be persuaded to participate in a special edition, especially if it relates to their mission or specialty. These themed print editions should be viewed equally as content production and revenue opportunity, though the advertising should never drive the content itself.

Build community with social media.
Social utilities — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Reddit and others — are useful not just for promotion but also to foster a community. Each platform has its own audience, so develop a strategy. Think about why the news staff is using a specific social utility and who the target audience is. If the students use Instagram, get on there, too. If you want to reach parents and families, Facebook is a better choice. Some special topics are great posts for Reddit, a social community whose users are highly engaged.

Engagement should be the goal, not simply followers, clicks, likes, retweets or upvotes. Engagement also means a back-and-forth conversation with members of that social community. When the community is established, the promotion will be authentic and easy. Since people tend to place trust in peer recommendations, social sharing and referrals are valuable to bring a new audience to your work and to grow the community.

You don’t have to start from scratch to get a great multi-platform journalism program going. However, restructuring might be challenge. It’s a challenge that’s worth the effort. Calibrate each platform to ensure that multiple coverage opportunities are available for students to tell the story of the school, and find the right mix that works.

Start a parent booster club. You’ll be glad you did.

I was in my 10th year of teaching when I finally moved forward on a thought I had for years. I needed some help managing the many tasks of being a publication adviser, and I wanted an organized parent group. If the athletic teams, the band — even the school’s sports medicine group and mariachi band — had boosters, so should the journalism programs.

Motivated by events at the National High School Journalism Convention, I gathered a group of parents in December 2006 to lay a foundation for a journalism booster blub. “J-Boosters” was born.

I was surprised by the enthusiasm and interest. The parents had been waiting to be asked. They wanted to be involved with the activities in which their children participated. In retrospect, I can’t believe I waited so long to launch the parent group. It remains one of the best things I was involved with at Wenatchee High School.

RATIONALE

Here’s what I wrote in a letter in January 2007 to parents of students on the yearbook or newspaper staffs:

A national survey sponsored by the Knight Foundation and released two years ago showed nearly three-fourths of high school students don’t know how they feel about the First Amendment or take it for granted. Support among teens for freedoms in the First Amendment is less than among adults. Students lack knowledge about basic freedom of expression, and some students even think the First Amendment goes too far in the freedoms it guarantees. But, students who participate in journalism classes are more likely to appreciate these freedoms, and a recent update to the initial survey shows some improvement in enrollment and in attitude. Clearly, now more than ever, we need to preserve opportunities for students to participate in scholastic journalism such as the newspaper and yearbook.

GOALS

When it launched, the group had four main goals:

  • to support journalism in the curriculum
  • to support journalism activities financially
  • to promote the journalism program and raise awareness
  • to recognize the effort and accomplishments of student journalists

WHAT HAPPENED

The parents agreed to the goals above and for their activities they determined to hold a kickoff fundraiser, a Quill and Scroll honorary society induction ceremony and an end-of-year banquet.

The kickoff event was Feb. 21, during the national Scholastic Journalism Week — a perfect time to launch a new endeavor. The parents wanted to raise awareness of the new organization and of the accomplishments and plans of the WHS journalism program.

They also wanted to raise money. By the end of the evening, through a silent and live auction as well as patron donations, several thousand dollars were raised, establishing the necessary seed money for first projects. The event has continued every year since.

One important aspect was to have a fiscal agent to collect funds. The parents worked with a local foundation to provide this service, so that donations could be eligible for an income tax deduction.

Two months later, the J-Boosters inducted the first students into the Quill and Scroll Society, and in May, the joint end-of-year banquet included students from both staffs and their parents.

In that initial letter, I closed with this paragraph:

The Apple Leaf newspaper and Wa Wa yearbook at Wenatchee High School have earned top state, regional and national award both as a staff and for individuals. J-Boosters is an opportunity to recognize excellence and to provide a foundation and support structure for new projects and even greater achievements. Becoming a J-Booster can help a student attend a conference to learn a new skill, provide new state-of-the-art equipment and recognize a job well done all while promoting the important role that student journalists have in the school community. As a J-Booster, you’ll help invest in youth who may grow up to be journalists or other related media professionals, and we all have a vested interest in developing citizens who support fundamental freedoms.

The J-Boosters are still active at that school several years later, and I could not be happier. The students deserve the support, and the parents want to help. The legacy includes not just a parent organization but also stronger and more vibrant journalism programs.

The value of an outside perspective

Each spring brings another set of passages to high schools: end-of-year testing, the Prom and graduation. The journalism program is no different with its year-in-review newspaper, yearbook distribution, selection of new editors and staff and maybe a farewell banquet. The adviser likely gives a final exam or asks students to turn in a portfolio of their cumulative work. Along with those important events and activities, each publication or media staff should take advantage of the annual spring renewal to seek an outside perspective for maximum benefit.

Unlike students in other scholastic activities, journalism students have an opportunity to gain a greater understanding about the work they do by participating in an annual evaluation. Producing a newspaper, yearbook, website or magazine is a specialized activity. Getting better at it requires a broader perspective than just the students and adults in the newsroom.

Fortunately, staffs have numerous options for just this kind of advice through one of the critique services at the national or state levels. NSPA has a longstanding program, as do the Columbia Scholastic Press Association and the Quill and Scroll Society. Many state associations also offer evaluation services. These programs provide two important aspects to success: recognition for the hard work and achievement of the publication over the past year and suggestions for how to improve the endeavor.

The critique can’t be done in isolation, though. It must be put to work. Improvement is a process. Because the staff composition changes each year, a critique evaluates the publication at that time. That’s why the rating or score must be secondary to the suggestions for improvement. Through evaluation, reflection and action, a critique will provide a path to build on the foundation.

Evaluation. The evaluation comes in two stages. First, the staff must evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. Some critique programs will demand more evaluation from the editors and staff, while others request only a letter of explanation. However, identifying the publication’s areas of strength and deficiency will help the evaluating judge provide targeted feedback. Second, the judge will apply the association’s criteria to the publication. The judge will write about what is working and what isn’t. He or she should provide a blend of praise and suggestions — ideally with specific tips for how to make the improvements — and a rating according to the criteria.

Reflection. Once the evaluation has been returned to the adviser and staff, it’s time to review the comments and reflect on the suggestions from the judge. This evaluation from an outsider may raise some important issues on which the staff can reflect. Some of the points might be reminders of more rigid rules of scholastic journalism, while others might be more in line with preference or taste. Regardless, the editors and staff ought to consider each point carefully and determine whether it should be accepted. If a suggestion is to be disregarded, the rationale should be clearly stated. Simply disagreeing or taking a defensive attitude does not help improve the publication. From there, the editors can work with the adviser to determine the best course of action for implementing the suggestions and making the most of the critique.

Action. The steps to be taken after an evaluation are best expressed in a set of goals. Some of the goals may be individual, such as an editor’s goal to have more of a certain type of coverage in each edition. Others may be staff goals, such as reducing the number of errors before submitting pages or teaching staff members how to improve their photography skills. The adviser and editor in chief should work with section editors to develop the individual goals and staff goals based on the suggestions from the evaluation. The action plan is up to the staff. For example, if the judge suggests including more stories about off-campus sports and recreation, how will the staff make this happen?

Evaluation, reflection and action can happen throughout the year, but the annual review is one way to create a benchmark. Periodically refer to the goals as a way to keep the staff on track throughout the year. The previous year’s critique can be referenced when setting goals and also when submitting for the next critique. It’s acceptable to miss a few goals. Make sure that staff identifies and reflects on the reasons for falling short.

So add a new rite of spring to the staff’s checklist: the annual critique. When the critique is returned a few months after submitting, the staff can set to work on implementing the suggestions for the publication or website. Celebrate the rating, but use the evaluation as a launch pad for improvement.

Balancing the public’s right to know with its safety

A post to the JEA email discussion list this month asked for response to the actions of a community paper, which published the names and addresses of gun permit holders. This was in the wake of a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., which claimed two dozen lives.

The paper’s story. The Poynter Institute’s report about the publication. But should student news media cover this story, and if so how?

The two issues here would definitely make for some interesting class discussion as well as a news story or point-counterpoint opinion article. I hope some news staffs are inspired to cover the debate around public records.

The two issues are, of course, whether the data should be available to the public and then whether the newspaper was right to publish the database with a map.

For the debate on why records are public, I think Washington state has a wonderful explanation from its “sunshine law”: “The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies that serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may maintain control over the instruments that they have created.” That is the spirit behind most sunshine laws — the public can hold its servants and agencies accountable only by knowing what those people and offices are doing.

Minnesota law states that all government-collected data is public unless specifically excluded. Here’s a new wrinkle in the private-or-not debate: The Star Tribune reported in August that cameras mounted in Minneapolis police vehicles routinely photograph license plates and add the plate and location to a database — almost 5 million vehicles in the first eight months of 2012. Turns out that data is public, and people have varying feelings on whether it should be. The report used as example the various locations of the mayor’s city-owned vehicle.

Today, Minnesota Public Radio reported that among the 100 requests for the city’s database were several from academic researchers and business opportunists. The story made me realize there are many other uses to public data besides just curiosity and accountability. The data can lead to academic discoveries and new business. One example was the route of the police vehicle itself (a one-day example video is online) and another explored whether a vehicle reposession agent could improve his job with access to the data. Most people probably don’t want their car’s location tracked, let alone published, but this story helped me see different perspectives.

Imagine the benefit of having a discussion with students about the value of public records and how they serve the public’s interest in many ways. Journalists serve the public interest, too — they are the watchdogs of government on behalf of the public. Then, move the discussion to how journalists can best serve the public and whether publishing a complete database is helpful or causes more problems.

I’d love to see some thoughtful examples of this work by students.

When considering colleges, look at student media

In March 2012, an email message arrived from a familiar sender, so I opened it immediately. “Hi Mr. Aimone,” it read. “This is Henry Rome, and I’m now the editor in chief of The Daily Princetonian.” I remembered Henry as a standout editor of The Spoke newspaper at Conestoga High School in Pennsylvania. He carted home a stack of plaques he and his staff won from the National Scholastic Press Association — for writing and multimedia as well as a national Pacemaker Award for general excellence and as 2009 National High School Journalist of the Year.

Now, as a college newspaper editor, Henry was interested in replicating some aspects from his successful past. Like many others, Henry wanted to see his peers at The Daily Princetonian recognized for their excellent work, so he sought membership in NSPA’s college branch, the Associated Collegiate Press. He’s not alone in wanting to continue his passion.

Among the most rewarding and fun aspects of my role as executive director is recognizing outstanding high school journalists and watching them become outstanding collegiate journalists. Some, like Henry, move into leadership roles at daily papers. Others work as reporters, photographers, designers, Web managers or in advertising.

Students who have a passion for storytelling — no matter the platform — should find a way to pursue it beyond high school. One of the components of NSPA’s mission is to foster careers in journalism, but a small number of high school journalists will find a career as a journalist. But they can extend their career as a student journalist a bit longer by finding a college media program that fits.

College media organizations come in many shapes and sizes. Universities with an established journalism school will likely offer multiple student media outlets. For example, Indiana University has a daily newspaper with a website, a features magazine, a yearbook and both radio and television stations.

It doesn’t take a big journalism school to have strong student media. Community colleges provide excellent opportunities to get involved right away. Most have a newspaper in print or online, and the staff is usually a loyal and motivated group. The selection of courses might be limited, so students with skills are essential. Experienced students from high school programs can jump in and participate fully. California has many strong community college journalism programs.

While most high schools offer yearbook journalism, many colleges don’t. Standout yearbook programs like at the University of Oklahoma or the University of Miami in Florida operate successful businesses based on producing a record of the year. Specialty magazines programs require similar skills. Drake University in Iowa and the University of Oregon are two schools with outstanding student-produced magazines.

Some college media organizations operate independently of the institution. The University of Missouri’s independent newspaper, the Maneater, is completely student-run, as are Minnesota Daily at the University of Minnesota and the Daily News at Yale University. These staffs don’t even have an adviser.

Finding the college that fits means discovering a school where students can participate in student media organizations from the first days on campus. Visit the newsroom and learn the available positions and requirements to join the student media staff. Some colleges require a couple years on campus before students can join the newspaper. Others may hire first-year students, but the process may be competitive. Large schools with daily newspapers will need many students to fill all positions, including specialized beats. Schools with a weekly paper and a daily website will require covering broader beats.

Consider the student media organization’s campus presence. In addition to a newspaper in print and online, many will have a magazine as well as yearbook and broadcast media. Students who worked on a high school yearbook staff may discover a special-interest magazine would be a good place to work. Designers and photographers could work for multiple media, and the skills developed in making high school broadcast or multimedia projects could lead to the campus radio or television station.

Finally, what role can a student can play in the student media organization? The smaller the staff, the more hats an individual will be required to wear. Some students will like the variety of duties and ability to work on all aspects of production. Others prefer to specialize.

Working on collegiate student media can be enriching, rewarding and fun. It can also pay the bills. Large schools will pay editors, reporters, designers and photographers, while small schools might pay editors but rely on volunteer staff. Most will pay advertising sales reps a commission.

Ask questions to help understand how to continue a passion in college. Doing so will lead a student to a college that fits.

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.