HS News Sites May Soon Publish Their Own Obits

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12:55 p.m. | Updated The article has been updated to clarify details about alternative web options for school journalism programs.

The American Society of News Editors, which has hosted more than 5,000 student-written publications on my.hsj.org in the last decade, announced last week that it would no longer host school newspapers because there are "so many more options available to schools.”

But those options were not clear yet to many advisers who oversee their school's journalism program. There are 87 New York City schools that have accounts on the hosted site; 14 high schools use it as their primary online destination for school news. The announcement left newspaper advisers scrambling for alternatives.

“I was really surprised,” said Cathy Kaczmarek, who has advised the Argus at Midwood High School for 23 years. “I don’t know what we are going to do yet.”

Kaczmarek used the site for more than five years to host the 72-year-old newspaper that publishes nearly monthly. She’ll spend the summer researching alternatives but is worried that when she broaches the topic with the new principal, she might lose her students’ editorial control over the content.

“It’s a definitely a possibility that we will go for a while without an online newspaper,” she said.

Marci Mann is in the same boat. As the adviser of The NUHS at New Utrecht High School, she relied on my.hsj.org because it’s “super easy and looks super nice.”

The closing of the site on September 15 will “set back in our scholastic journalism endeavor,” Mann said. This was the first year that the 89-year-old newspaper went digital and the small staff advertised the site to “create a groundswelling of support.” Next year, they’ll have to start all over again.

“Given how dismal our budget is next year, I don’t know if we’ll be able to afford anything else,” Mann said.

The alternatives available to schools range from paid turnkey options like School Newspapers Online or free options such as iHigh or the Interscholastic Online News Network.

Creating a site that is independent from a school’s main web presence is a good idea, said Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “It is a gesture of independence that makes you more credible,” he said.

The credibility and outside recognition that my.hsj.org provided through its best-of-student-reporting “National Edition” are something that advisers like Mann and Kaczmarek will miss most.

But ASNE said that element won’t go away. In September, the organization will launch weekly and monthly contests for student-submitted content. Selected winners will receive $100 in cash prizes and honorable mentions will be published on the site.

Le Anne Wiseman, who runs the Youth Journalism Initiative at ASNE, doesn’t want schools to feel abandoned by the change. She said it was “more economical for schools to find hosting for themselves than for us to do it.”

LoMonte sees this as an opportunity to get the administration support for scholastic newspapers.

“Saying this is going to be a class in online publishing and managing websites,” a potentially lucrative career path, can position the class as a “training opportunity for 21st Century jobs,” he said. “It’s an opportunity for students to teach themselves a really valuable skill set. Learning to be conversant in Wordpress is part of digital literacy.”

And the recognition that students and schools are more technology friendly than they were when my.hsj.org began is one of the reasons that the site is being discontinued.

“They saw the writing on the wall,” said Kelly Furnas, executive director of the Journalism Education Association. He said he knows that advisers are “anxious” about the next step but encourages them not to give up.

But Mann doesn’t think that is realistic. “It definitely makes it harder for teachers and students to get involved if it’s not free and easy,” she said.