Wick Communications

Going back to school

In Ideas on 3 Sep 2010 at 8:48 am

By now, most of us have covered the annual rite of sending our children back to school. I can predict with some accuracy that about 30 percent of us focused on those ever-cute kindergarteners, another 30 percent probably told the story by focusing on school budget reductions and the remainder handled it with standalone photos of crossing guards leading solider-straight kids on a march across the street, tales of new principals on their first day, and other somewhat obvious devices to draw readers into another fall.

Well, what now?

For most newspapers, school coverage comes in three bland flavors – board meeting/budget analysis, sports stories and random reporting on something new at the school. That last category can run the gamut from new lunch menus to a new high school auditorium.

If that plan sounds familiar, I suggest you may be missing stories that would get a much wider audience. The problem may be that you consider schools more of a warehouse for kids during the day than what it is – a vibrant community unto itself that benefits from and suffers from the same factors influencing the rest of us. Plus, nothing is more important than your readers’ kids. They eat up school coverage…

This post actually grew out of a story idea team leader David Lewis passed along this week. Here he is:

When on vacation last week, a Little Rock television station did an interesting report on school students, cell phones, different rules between districts, penalties for use during school hours, etc. I am guessing the story hits home with almost everyone who has kids in schools.

That is a great idea that will not come from a press release from the district office. Here are a few more:

  • Pay-to-play. Are your schools making athletes pay to play sports now? They are in California. I submit to you this could have some profound effects down the line. Will high school football become an elite endeavor? Will poorer schools have trouble competing? What do sociologists say about how that could ultimately change a nation of spectators primarily interested because we grew up playing the game?
  • Pricey school supplies. How much do parents pay for school supplies now compared with years past? Are there any figures available, maybe from places like Target or Office Depo?. And does your kid need an iPad or other digital device? Would that actually be more cost-effective than buying books?
  • Preventing school violence. Did you know the CDC offers story ideas, including ways to “Keep cool at school?” (Scroll down a bit for a school violence fact sheet and information on environmental design techniques that can actually lessen violence in schools.
  • When is the best time to do homework? Does it vary from person to person? Is it best to do it right after school, when your head is still in the game? Is it OK to burn the midnight oil? How about getting up early to do it? I bet you can find experts with an opinion. Better yet, ask local parents what they think.

The point is, while school board meetings and press releases often produce necessary stories, better ones may be bouncing around in your head right now. If you are stuck, look around the Web. Many colleges offer seasonal story ideas. I’d like to hear about your innovative school stories. Chances are others could do something similar.

(And thanks to the Review’s Lily Bixler for the photo above, from Pescadero Elementary School.)



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