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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.

Johnson story ideas

Idea 1: What are the reasons that students drop out of college after the first year?  We could query recent DHS graduates who have gone away and returned.

Mission and need: This might be a good candidate for a solutions piece because it would be interesting to see if certain colleges offer support to students who are coming from small, rural high schools.  The purpose would be to help students with the choices that they make for the future by understanding some of the obstacles other students have been defeated by.

Why report it now?: This story would be good at any time because there will always be kids thinking about what to do after high school, but rarely thinking about what to do once they get there and if it would be sustainable to stay there.

Essential questions: What are the reasons that students are quitting college after the first year?  Are there colleges that understand some of these reasons and have proactive solutions to help students who, for example, drop a class because they can’t afford a book.  If there are proactive solutions to some of these problems, what are the results?

Sources to use: Recent graduates who have left college after the first year and returned to our small town.  Authorities at institutions with proactive programs to help students these problems.  College students who have benefitted from these programs, maybe even local DHS alumni who have not dropped out.

Potential issues with sources and how to solve them: It might be hard to find colleges with programs that solve these problems, but I think if we interview kids who have dropped out first, they may provide some potential leads.  I also think that parents of recent graduates who ARE still in college would be an untapped resource that might help us contact students who know of programs that have worked.  We could obviously do research online first.  Teachers who have recently graduated college might be good resources too.

Medium/media to best tell the story:  I think this would be a good long-form story for our magazine.  It would require some time and attention to get through and a glossy page with beautiful photos to accompany the intimate stories of these students would probably work best.

Visuals:  See answer above.

Angles, supporting materials: I’m not exactly sure of how to answer this one.

Visual/alternative presentation:  It would be cool to see a map of where students have only stayed in college a year with colors representing high to low drop-out rates, both in the state and in the U.S.

Legal, ethical, and social issues:  Obviously, it might be hard for some of the students to talk about leaving, especially if they were sensitive reasons.  I would have to have permission from the students interviewed and depending on the reasons for leaving, there may be other legal, ethical, and social reasons related to the college or institution that we would have to flesh out.

Other:  Follow-up stories would always be an option with this sort of thing.  We could re-visit the students who share their stories later on down the line to see if they end up going back or going somewhere else.

2: We do a 100 years of Delta High School story for the 100th edition of the yearbook.

Mission and need:  This would be of value to students, staff, parents, and alumni and a great reason to do a pride book.  I was at a scholarship breakfast with the head of the alumni association who would absolutely love for us to find Delta’s oldest living alumni, so that would have to be a part of it.

Why now?:  Next year will be the 100th DHS yearbook.  This would be for out 2021 book.

Essential questions:  Who is the oldest living DHS alumni?  What did DHS look like 100 years ago?  What did the school look like when a new building was built?  Do we have images, memories and reflections from the community?

Sources to use:  Our collection of old yearbooks (of course), members of the DHS alumni association, teachers, staff, and administrators who attended DHS…

Potential issues with sources and how to solve them:  Finding the oldest-living DHS alumni might be tricky.  I think with message boards on Facebook and utilizing social media as well as public records, we could figure it out and verify it (maybe?).  We might also be able to check back issues of the local paper for intel.

Medium/media best:  The yearbook would be the best, but there might be some fun social media options for this as well.  It would actually be a great way to gain audience engagement through social media and crowdsourcing.  I’m thinking something like tweeting out “Send us you oldest DHS memory,” or “Tweet your fondest memory of DHS.”

Visuals:  The yearbook would use archival photos of the school, but a timeline would be really cool.  An interactive timeline would be really cool for the web.  It would also be really fun to make an animated web graphic or graphic of old pictures coming together to form the mascot or something like that.  We could do an interactive fast fact quest.  There are so many options.  We could look at the evolution of the uniform, as mentioned earlier in the week.  The list goes on…

Range of angles:  Evolution of the uniform, building changes through time, a “longest lasting__________” list, reflections and voices, a photo essay, a timeline, etc.

Visually alternatively presented– timeline?  See comments above.

Legal and ethical concerns:  I guess that if a previous yearbook was sloppy with legal or ethical issues, we would have to be careful about re-publishing that.  As time changes, culture changes and there is more sensitivity towards issues and topics that we might want to be sensitive about.  For instance, senior superlatives that were fine in the 1970s might not be politically correct today.


Idea 3:  The district wants a mill levy on the ballot for our upcoming election to upgrade the district’s aging transportation fleet.

Mission and need:  It would be interesting to hear about the district asking the community for money again because every time a mill levy has been proposed, it has been rejected.  This would inform the school and, hopefully, the community of the district’s rationale for asking for more money.

Why report it now?:  It will be on the November ballot and it would be a great idea to inform voters of the school’s latest initiative.

Essential questions:  Why is the district asking for money for transportation and not other areas that need funding? How does the community feel about it?  How do teachers and administrators feel about it?  Was is the district’s annual transportation budget?  What would the mill levy add? Would it be sustainable?  Why are people in support?  Why are people against?

Sources: The district annual budget, the official paperwork filed with the board, the staff and administration, the superintendent and transportation director, bus drivers, community members, parents, faculty, students, neighboring data on transportation budgets and upgrades

Potential issues with sources and how to solve them:  It might be hard to sift through the data , especially with neighboring districts.  My students know how to access all the financial records for our district and soon will know how to use Tabula.  I think it also might be unclear as to where to get the documentation proposing the mill levy.

Media/ medium best to tell:  I think the web site might be best for this.  It would be quick and easy to add updates, alternative story forms, podcasts, etc. as the story evolves.  I also think the web would be a dynamic place to post tweets on the issue or use social media in conjunction.

Visuals:  We could do polls, images of elements of the transportation fleet that show the age and safety issues, charts to display data showing the current budget for transportation vs. the budget with the added bonus the mill levy would give us.

Range of story angles:  safety issue stories from the bus driver perspective, podcasts capturing student, employee, and community concerns about the district using old vehicles, a point/counterpoint op-ed debating the pros and cons

Ideas for alternative presentation are mentioned above, but I’m sure I could think of more, like an editorial cartoon of a broken down bus or something cheeky.

Legal and ethical issues:  If we delve into presenting the dangers of an aging fleet, we would have to be careful to present problems in a way where we aren’t pointing fingers at the transportation director or bus drivers, but the problem with stretching out funding for equipment that may not be safe.  We also have to be sure to present facts in a balanced and ethical manner where it is clear that we aren’t advocating for one side or another, we just want to inform the public to make an educated decision about the impact of the vote.


Idea 4:  It would be fun to do a feature story on what people do to stay sane on busy days.  Maybe something with a title like “How do you unplug?”

Mission and need:  Students are more stressed and busier than ever these days.  Suicide is the number one killer of Colorado teens.  It would be nice to give perspectives on finding “zen” in the midst of a stressful situation or a busy day.

Why report it now?:  This is the type of story that could be done any time, but seems more and more relevant as students seem more and more dependent on tech and as everyone is feeling pulled in more and more directions.

Essential questions:  What do people do to disengage? When do they do it?  How do they do it?  Who does it?  What are the outcomes? Where do they do it? Why do they do it?  How can YOU do it?

Sources:  A diverse variety of bozos?

Potential issues with sources:  Some bozos may share inappropriate practices or rituals that they may be fine sharing, but we may have to think of other stakeholders who may be affected.

Medium/media best to tell the story: Podcast, magazine, web, social

Visuals: Man on the street sidebar, cool graphic of unplugging, photo essay, or- to get profound- BLANK SPACE

Range of angles:  traditional story on the benefits of removing oneself from the business of life, Q & A from someone who is a real expert on the topic, multiple perspectives on what people do to unplug, Twitter tip of the day for unplugging…

Legal and ethical issues:  If we were to ask students about their screen time, it would be ethical to let them know that it is for student media and might be published.

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