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Student media in the digital age

WLHS Now brings West Linn's media platforms to one website


SUBMITTED PHOTO - Glenn Krake's journalism class works on various assignments.It’s safe to say that media has changed in the past 20 years. In fact, it wasn’t 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 school’s 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 Linn’s 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 WLHS’s film and photography classes — weren’t 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 paper’s 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 wasn’t reaching its intended audience. Most of the work that West Linn’s 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 school’s different forms of media, and interest from students waned. That’s 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 School’s 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, Krake’s 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. We’ve been focused on ‘How can we market ourselves?’ That’s 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.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO - WLHS Now Co-editor-in-chiefs Nicole Joerger (left) and Emily Topping address Glenn Krake's journalism class.

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 website’s success, however, was the skillset that students were quickly learning.

“In past years we’ve 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 you’re going to do a story for us you’re the one that’s usually going to check out the camera, you’re 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. It’s also allowed for West Linn High School’s 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. WLHS’s 2013-14 yearbook was ranked No. 8 in the nation by the high school journalism publication “Ideas That Fly.”

But while wildly impressive, it wasn’t 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 wasn’t getting seen by anybody until the end of the school year,” Krake says. “They’re 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 Breyne’s video students to thrive, giving them an outlet to share their work. Almost weekly Krake’s 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 don’t need a lot a lot of teaching oftentimes,” he says. “A lot of it is just that they need an opportunity because they’re sharp. Yeah, there’s some training involved. But for a lot of them they’re just good, so it’s 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 Krake’s 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 it’s been a great experience. We just want to keep doing even better.”

Contact Andrew Kilstrom at 503-636-1281 ext. 112 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..