Lake Norman & Mooresville

Student newspaper moves to online only

Stop the presses.

That's exactly what students at the private Woodlawn School in Davidson have done. They have been publishing a quarterly, student-run newspaper since 2004, and this year the student club responsible for the publication decided to phase out the print edition and create a daily online newspaper.

The move helps the students update information for fellow students, teachers and families more frequently, eases distribution, and lets the students learn up-to-date skills in online journalism.

"I am particularly proud of my students who have worked very, very hard at getting this up and running," said student publications adviser Karen Bowman. "It's one of the only online student-run newspapers in the area that I know of."

The online paper focuses on the school's faculty, students and events. It covers arts, sports and has some opinion content. When it was in print, it had anywhere from eight to 24 pages and averaged about 12 pages. Now, the students publish up to 15 articles a week.

Bowman, who has a bachelor's degree in journalism/technical writing, watches over the "staff" of nearly 20 reporters and section editors, but said the website was created and is managed solely by students in grades 9-12.

"I love teaching the kids because they get really excited about this stuff," she said. "We are pretty much a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants operation because we have one hour a week that we meet. It's not a graded class, so these kids have to be motivated to do this."

The school purchased a web template for their online paper and modified it according to the school's needs and students' wishes. They measure traffic via StatCounter and have had up to 500 visitors a day.

She praises the dedication of those involved and says the tech-savvy students are fast, dedicated learners. This summer, she taught herself Joomla, a free content management system for publishing content online, but has since passed on her skills to the students who update the "paper" daily.

Bowman said she and her students searched about 30 Charlotte-area school websites for similar student-run, online publications but didn't find any. Studentpress.org has about five similar online newspapers in its database for North Carolina, with only one in Charlotte.

Monica Hill, director of N.C. Scholastic Media Association at UNC Chapel Hill, estimates there are dozens of sites like Woodlawn's in the state and hundreds throughout the nation.

"While we are seeing a growing number of online scholastic news sites across the state, most scholastic media outlets in North Carolina continue to be print only - for now."

The effort also serves as a teaching tool.

"Journalism teachers are realizing the educational impact of online news and the need to teach their students the 21st-century skills associated with online news sites," said Hill, who gave Woodlawn students credit for the behind-the-scenes work that goes into maintaining and building a website.

"Woodlawn students have made the move online that many in scholastic journalism are making," said Hill. "While a great many are using Wordpress for their content management system, Woodlawn students have learned Joomla!, a more challenging system that allows them greater flexibility in their design. Kudos to them for tackling this project and for continuing to serve their school community."

Alexa Adams, Terin Patel-Wilson and Sayre Weir are all 17 and seniors who fill critical roles in putting the site together and keeping it updated. They all said they plan to pursue some field related to journalism after graduation.

"It covers all happenings throughout the school, and it offers an opportunity to recognize all the students in grades K-12," said Weir, the editor, who has been involved with student publications since eighth grade.

"We have transitioned our paper to online, and it's big step for the Lamplighter."

"It's a great way to see student life," added Patel-Wilson, the web administrator and member of student publications since seventh grade. "It's a snapshot of Woodlawn life."

"It covers all the happenings in grades K-12," said Adams, the arts editor in her second year with student publications.

"It helps our teachers keep up with our lives and it's a tool that helps build our school community."

These young journalist agree newspapers probably will never totally disappear, but as they get older, they said the trend will be for people to find news online.

"It's really inevitable," said Weir.

"That's just the way it's progressing."

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