Oregon high school newspaper shifts to online

EUGENE — North Eugene High School's half-century-old student newspaper was dealt a crippling blow in 2007 when lean budgets and scheduling constraints forced an end to the journalism class.

Production of The Caledonian was left to a voluntary after-school club a shift that could have doomed the publication.

But after a tough couple of years (its core staff numbered two last year and they came out with only four issues), The Caledonian is back with a decidedly 21st century twist.

With an enthusiastic staff of nine, the newspaper debuted this fall on the Web, breaking new ground among local high schools. While many schools offer their papers online through PDF links from their school Web sites, North appears to be the first in the area to have its own interactive and ever-changing Web site. Churchill High School may not be far behind, however, and the online student paper is becoming more common elsewhere in the country.

"We have entire videos, stories, blogs, everything," said Caledonian editor Ethan Bursofsky, a senior with a zeal for politics and journalism. "Our plan is to get everyone involved not just North, but anyone in Eugene."

It was adviser Aaron Thomas' idea to make the jump to the Web. In his third year teaching at North's Academy of Arts, he stepped into the role of newspaper adviser last year and soon realized a new approach was crucial to its success. Then he read a book called "Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations."

"It talked about how everything is going online and online is taking over the world," said Thomas, who worked on his college paper and as a copy editor for two years at a Colorado biweekly.

Thomas doesn't plan to entirely abandon the traditional paper format; he wants to come out with a handful of editions later this year, mainly to give students practice with layout and design.

But he likes the immediacy of the Web and its potential to engage student readers by letting them post comments (all reviewed first) and even submit their own writing, artwork or videos. What's more, it costs virtually nothing to produce, compared to the $300-plus tab for a print edition.

Bursofsky, who was editor last year, initially balked. He felt loyal to the traditional format, he said, in part because the explosion of free, online news sources has eroded the strength and quality of print newspapers.

"I felt like it would threaten the overall success if we moved online," he said.

Ultimately, though, he began to see the possibilities, and was persuaded the team could do both.

Now he's brimming with ideas for the Web, including landing video interviews with local officials (he already got one with Mayor Kitty Piercy, who discussed climate change).

Knowing little about building a Web site, Thomas began exploring a free blogging program called wordpress.com. But then along came sophomore Alex Howard, a computer whiz in North's School of Invention, Design, Engineering, Art & Science who was looking to pad his academic resume with newspaper experience.

"We were really lucky to get him," Thomas said. "He said, I'll just build our Web site.'?"

What emerged was an attractive, reader-friendly site whose home page offers the full menu of current stories and videos.

Featured on the site this week, for example, are sophomore Thomas Hiura's piece about the Mormon Church's links to the hit series "Twilight"; a story about the Social Justice Club by senior Joel Rothman; and Howard's review of the school play "Alice in Wonderland."

The staff meets for a couple of hours Tuesday afternoons to brainstorm ideas, make assignments, post stories and listen to the occasional mini-lesson from Thomas. Without the structure and time afforded by an actual class, it's difficult to cover important topics such as libel and copyright law, he said, let alone provide guidance on conducting interviews, writing articles or editing video.

At this week's meeting, Thomas spent a bit of time discussing how to expand videos into actual news stories, with voice-over and interviews. The senior class leaders were doing a one-minute "grocery grab" for needy families at the Grocery Outlet the next morning, and Thomas wanted a story.

"I don't just want crazy-cart video going up and down the aisles," he said. "I want context. You have to do some planning for that."

It was senior Jenni Trosian and Bursofsky who, with Thomas' guidance, got the paper out last year.

"It's important to me because I'm a writer, and I like informing people in this way," said Trosian, who bristles at the funding discrepancy between athletics and the newspaper.

North appears to be the only metro area high school that no longer offers journalism as a class although at Willamette, it's being offered as a class only half the year.

Linda Puntney, executive director of the Journalism Education Association, said the economy has taken a toll on student newspapers nationwide, with more schools relegating it to club status or doing away with a traditional newspaper.

"It's an unfortunate thing in many respects," she said. "If they're going to cut something from the curriculum, probably the journalism classes are the last things that should be cut. That's where you put together all the things you learn in every other part of academics."

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