Student media in the digital age
WLHS Now brings West Linn's media platforms to one website
Its safe to say that media has changed in the past 20 years. In fact, it wasnt that long ago that newspapers and network television were the only reliable methods for news information. With the sudden power of the Internet, the introduction of social media and the rise of citizen reporting, the media landscape is drastically different than the past.
The transformation is one that students and faculty at West Linn High School have recognized, and have embraced whole-heartedly in the past year, though it took a while to get the schools journalism program off and running in the new digital age of media.
It all started when journalism and yearbook teacher Glen Krake was getting ready to take over West Linns school newspaper, The Amplifier, in the spring of 2015. It was clear that the student body had grown disinterested in the publication since the print product had ceased a few years prior. But he and Ann Breyne, the teacher previously in charge of overseeing The Amplifier who now teaches WLHSs film and photography classes werent exactly sure how to change that. Breyne had managed to move the newspaper online in 2011, but struggled to sustain consistent readership. Krake and Breyne agreed a change was needed.
WLHS Now is born
Despite the papers move to digital, the state of student media as a whole at West Linn High School was somewhat murky heading into the summer of 2015. The content students were producing was good, but it was few and far between, and without the print version of The Amplifier news wasnt reaching its intended audience. Most of the work that West Linns journalism, photography and video classes were producing was getting lost in the expansive world of the Internet.
Each respective medium was promoting work through social media, though sparingly, but there seemed to be a disconnect. There was little cohesion between the high schools different forms of media, and interest from students waned. Thats when Krake and Breyne recognized a potential solution.
It was hard because Ann was monitoring photography and video and I was monitoring journalism, and then our broadcasting program that we had just started was a separate thing, Krake says. We thought, What if we did a re-launch? What resulted was the idea of WLHS Now. We came up with this site and decided to call it the home of WLHS student media. Instead of having all these separate things that are fighting for attention, we thought if we had one place where people could go that everything it would help boost everything else.
After a short transitional period WLHS Now, a multi-media website, launched at the beginning of the school year, joining all of West Linn High Schools media students. Everyone was suddenly working together, instead of fighting for attention.
Students begin to thrive
Going into the school year with WLHS Now still in its infancy, Krakes primary goal was to increase audience. The key was for each medium to work in unison with one another while increasing the quantity and quality of content across the board.
That was the number one goal. Weve been focused on How can we market ourselves? Thats the biggest difference now, Krake says. It used to be this pull model, where we would pull people to come to our newspaper, come to our website, come read our yearbook, come look at our television show. Now everything is moving to that push model where you have to get your content to where the reader is.
Almost as soon as WLHS Now launched at the beginning of September students began implementing their new marketing tactics. Success soon followed.
Reporting and creating more content than ever during journalism class, social media posts became more frequent, and views and feedback were through the roof.
With everything in one place website traffic went up accordingly, only increasing student motivation. More important than the websites success, however, was the skillset that students were quickly learning.
In past years weve had people that were just photographers, or just wrote, but this year you kind of have to do it all, and I think that kind of reflects how it is in the real world right now, says senior Emily Topping, WLHS Now co-editor-in-chief. If youre going to do a story for us youre the one thats usually going to check out the camera, youre the one that writes and edits it.
The shift has allowed for increased opportunities for students, who control every aspect of the website from writing stories to editing and uploading photos and video. Its also allowed for West Linn High Schools award-winning yearbook to reinvent itself.
For years the publication has been popular with students, and is regarded as one of the best high school yearbooks in the nation. WLHSs 2013-14 yearbook was ranked No. 8 in the nation by the high school journalism publication Ideas That Fly.
But while wildly impressive, it wasnt receiving attention until its unveiling at the end of the school year.
Yearbook students have quickly found that with their new platform they can share their work with the world throughout the school year, building anticipation for the finished product.
These kids were doing unbelievable work but it wasnt getting seen by anybody until the end of the school year, Krake says. Theyre at pretty much every school event, every sporting event during the year but were forced to save their photography for the yearbook. Now they can share some of that content, and maybe they save the best photos for the final yearbook, but they can put photo galleries online and share some really great work.
Just the beginning
Moving to digital has also allowed for Krake and Breynes video students to thrive, giving them an outlet to share their work. Almost weekly Krakes journalism class produces video stories highlighting events at the high school. Quality video editing can be a challenge, but Krake says students have picked up the skills quickly.
These kids are so talented they dont need a lot a lot of teaching oftentimes, he says. A lot of it is just that they need an opportunity because theyre sharp. Yeah, theres some training involved. But for a lot of them theyre just good, so its just a matter of getting them out doing stuff, giving them opportunities.
I started making videos for Amplifier, the old website, and basically it just turned into filming more sports and eventually editing into these more cinematic type highlights, says Sam Dearborn, one of Krakes journalism students. It took its own path. People wanted the content and it drove people to the website.
While WLHS Now has grown dramatically since its inception at the beginning of the school year, students say this is just the start of more to come. They want to continue to add platforms and content, increasing their impact on the high school and the greater West Linn community.
This is just our first year of WLHS Now, says Nicole Joerger, co-editor-in-chief. We just keep adding more and more stuff. I think everyone involved would say its been a great experience. We just want to keep doing even better.