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A free summer seminar for experienced high school journalism advisers

From the 23 teachers who attended this workshop in July 2019, we have included Solutions Journalism Story Ideas, other Story Ideas for a whole range of topics and Tech Examples of something they learned, many of these for data visualization, plus some resources anyone can use in the future for these topics.

Bieber story ideas


Story Idea:  The Tuffy Badger Mascot costume and spirit flags have not been used for the last couple of years.  Why?

Story Mission/Need:  Bennington is known to have a great student section and large community following however, two traditions no longer are part of the game day atmosphere.  Is school spirit declining?

Why Report it Now? The school district once was known as a small community, but is the fastest growing in the state.  Is the growth causing a decline in school spirit, or why have students quit using the mascot costume and flags?

Essential Questions:  Who is in charge of the costume and flags?  How does one become Tuffy Badger? Has student attendance to sporting events declined in the last few years?

Sources to Use: Athletic director, Greg Lamberty.  Spirit section leaders (those who run the student Badger Power Twitter account)  Students who attend games. Athletes.

Potential Issues: What can actually be dug up on the story?  It might be a dead end if our AD cannot provide stats on attendance, or know who is in charge of the costume.

Medium:  Print.

Visuals: Picture of the student section.  Screenshots from the former “Tuffy Badger” Twitter account.  If attendance records can be acquired, a chart showing the statistics.  A picture of the deflated costume to show the deflation of spirit.

Range of story angles / supporting materials: What does it take to be Tuffy Badger – show all the elements that would make an excellent mascot.  Gather opinions from coaches, athletes, cheerleaders, and students.  Have students provide suggestions of who (which student) they think would make a great Tuffy and why.  Have a reporter take on the role of Tuffy for a range of events, or over an extended period of time and report back on the experience.  Dig more deeply into the idea of lack of school spirit…or maybe there isn’t a lack of spirit and why.

How will various info be presented? There could be an Instagram or Twitter poll to help encourage reader interaction with the story and to crowdsource.  We could have students post their favorite game day traditions or cheer.

Legal, ethical, and social responsibility questions:



Story Idea:  The student bodies lack to get behind charitable causes and drives.

Story Mission/Need: Our students are by-and-large products of well-to-do, two parent, dual income families.  They lack for little in the material world. Yet, when an organization at the school attempts to do a charitable drive, there is very little support or empathy from the student body.  What can be done to change the mindset, and activate students to be more empathetic and giving towards others in need?

Why Report it Now? Empathy is always relevant 🙂  There are many needs in the area that go unmet.  Students need to be aware of the problems surrounding us, and think beyond their own, small worlds.

Essential Questions: Why do students choose not to give? What strategies have organizations tried?  When have drives been held?  What local charities do students know about and possibly have a passion for?  What are the biggest issues facing our community?

Sources to Use: Students and sponsors who have attempted drives, concrete data and numbers on sources raised.  Data from the county on things like hunger, poverty rates, drug useage, or other causes our school organizations have attempted to support. Local experts from charitable organizations.

Potential Issues: This is a broad issue, so making sure to share the “slices” so that there is adequate coverage, and multiple angles explored.

Medium: I see this as a great potential for solutions journalism, which seems to best lend itself to print.  However, we could possibly transfer it over into a monthly podcast, that could focus on different local charities or something along those lines.

Visuals: Statistic graphs, possible audio, try and show the impact of a dollar on an organization through pictures

Range of story angles / supporting materials:  Figuring out what problems are most prevalent in our community – is it hunger? Homelessness? Basic needs (toiletries, clothing, etc.)  Look at specific organizations.  Zone in on what drives we have attempted and results.  Try to focus in on one person and tell their story.  Ask students what charity/cause they are most interested in and why.  Bring awareness to local volunteer opportunities.

How will various info be presented? As mentioned, I see it based in print, with potential for podcasts, photo journalism stories that could be put on either a website, or through an instagram story

Legal, ethical, and social responsibility questions:



Story Idea: Superintendent Terry Haack takes great pride that Bennington Public Schools has the smallest per pupil cost of any school in the state. The story could show how the money is spent, and compare it to other schools in the metro and across the state.

Story Mission/Need:  The schools continue to grow in size, but the development of the infrastructure remains the same.  At what cost to students and staff is his refusal to spend more money?

Why Report it Now?  There is a sense that we cut corners in many ways to save money.  Students settle for cheap technology, class sizes increase because new FTE’s are not added to combat growth, and teachers are asked to teach 7 of 8 class periods.  Because staff can barely cover the core classes, our diversity of curriculum suffers, since there is no one able to teach them.  This puts our students at a disadvantage behind similarly sized schools in our area.

Essential Questions:  What is our per pupil cost, and how is each dollar spent?  How does this compare to other similar schools?  What does the rest of the school budget look like?  How does this translate into the general experience for our students.

Sources to Use: Nebraska Department of Education, Superintendent’s budget reports to the State of Nebraska & School Board minutes.  Comparative data of similar schools found at NDE.  Interviews from Dr. Haack, and building principals.  Interviews from parents who have or have had students go through the district.

Potential Issues:  Ability to obtain financial records.

Medium: Print.  I think it lends itself best to traditional long form that can be amplified with some accompanying infographics to bring the facts to life.  Possibly do a podcast or video asking students what classes they wish were offered and why they would want to take them, if they would want a block schedule, and something dealing with our 1-1 initiative and the chromebooks that were chosen over more sophisticated computers

Visuals: infographics showing cost comparisons, something interesting with what goes into the cost of one student, depending on what is done with teachers/curriculum there could be infographics there as well.

Range of story angles / supporting materials: possibly show a typical day of a student at our school vs. a student at a similar school.  Could a different schedule (for example, moving to block schedule) free up teachers time and provide a way to diversify the curriculum?  Maybe find a student who has recently transferred into BHS and have them compare a typical school day at old school vs. experience at Bennington.

How will various info be presented? Print, charts, graphs.

Legal, ethical, and social responsibility questions:



Story Idea: Showcasing Spirit Week attire

Story Mission/Need:  One of the most beloved, and participated aspect of Homecoming week is the daily dress up days, but few students get recognized for their creativity and participation.

Why Report it Now? It is an aspect that has high reader interest.

Essential Questions: Why do you dress up for spirit days?  How does it add to the excitement of the week?  What is your favorite aspect?  What is your inspiration for your costumes?  How much do you typically spend on your dress up items?  What/Who has been your favorite spirit costume this week?

Sources to Use:  Students!  Lots and lots of students!  The more students the better!  One reason that I think this would be a great social media story – particularly through Instagram, is that we would be able to showcase as many kids as we could photograph, and that would post to our feed our use or hashtag.  It has awesome potential for high traffic, and audience engagement.

Potential Issues: Negative comments on other’s photos posted by other users.  Dialogue that could turn negative.

Medium: Instagram

Visuals: Student photos.  We could also add in some video through Instagram as well.

Range of story angles / supporting materials: We could try and categorize them beyond just the daily themes.  Daily costume winners, Who wore it best if there are two of the same, etc.

How will various info be presented? Instagram photo and video

Legal, ethical, and social responsibility questions: following school guidelines for online content

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