Pages Navigation Menu

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.

Ortiz story ideas

Story Idea #1: (Solutions journalism) A number of districts are switching their district away from class rank to reduce stress in students and increase acceptance rates at colleges.

Story mission and need: Students obsess and stress about class rank and the number on their report cards. It dictates what classes they pick in high school so they do not get to experiment with classes they may enjoy since they are only focused on classes that will bolster their GPA. There is also manipulation and cheating constantly associated with kids in the top 10.

Why Report it Now: A number of districts are moving away from the class rank and switching to Summa Cum Laude, etc. It is happening across the country and in our state and region.

Essential Questions:

  • How does it impact scholarships for the top students?
  • How does it impact acceptance rates?
  • What are short-term issues it causes in the district?

Sources to use, live and non-live:

  • Administrators/Decision-makers at campuses the decision has already been made at.
  • Our superintendent
  • Students pushing for the top ranking who would be impacted
  • Past top 10 student who may have an opinion one way or another on how their experience may have been different if they had not been ranked.
  • College recruiters on how it impacts their decision makings

Potential Issues with sources and how to solve them:

  • Not on campus so pre-scheduling would have to be done.
  • Finding reliable data since it’s still new to some districts
  • Long-term impact may not yet be measurable.

Medium/media to best tell the story?

  • Newspaper center package
  • Map with districts nearby who have switched
  • Audio story to accompany

Depending on the media, what visuals (Challenging for this topic)

  • A map showcasing districts who have switched
  • A photo illustration or drawing of overwhelmed student. Or showcasing two different pathways for kids – one experimenting in variety of classes and interests. One focused only on AP and rank.

Range of story angles

  • Overview on how districts are changing and why
  • Close-up look at students who are impacted by the ranking system
  • Materials from colleges on their selection process and how rank works.

How will the various information pieces be visually, alternatively presented?

  • Maps
  • Audio files
  • Story form

From info-gathering to presentation, what legal ethical and social responsibility questions might you face and what are some ways they might be handled?

  • Some opponents say kids just can’t handle the competition.
  • Getting GPA’s could fall into legal issues and so students would likely have to write around that.
  • Getting kids to confirm their rank could be a challenge and not always possible

Other question, points, approaches or media:

Story Idea #2: Homecoming traditions

Story Mission and need: Compare the homecoming traditions at all the high schools and see how our current traditions compare. Are their traditions our young school would like to adopt from other schools?

Why report it now? Homecoming is still not a very popular weekend. Alumni don’t often return. They rarely win the football game. And the traditions so far are minimal with dress up days and a pep rally and a dance. Are the other schools the same?

Essential questions:

  • What traditions are in place at other high schools?
  • How popular are those traditions?
  • What are ideas that could be implemented for the future at our school?

Sources to use:

  • Likely student council leaders at each campus. That is their primary focus.
  • Principal at our school has been there since the beginning so she can give some insight on why things are the way they currently are at our place.

Potential issues:

  • Getting details from people on other campuses can be challenging
  • People not remembering the origin of things in our school even though it’s only 13 years old. —– to solve it, just keep asking even people possibly off campus.
  • If there is not much different or interesting between campuses, look at neighboring districts where homecoming is a bigger deal.

Medium/media to best tell the story?

  • Newspaper because it would allow us to use a number of infographics and a couple shorter stories instead of just one piece. More flexibility in compiling the information in visually pleasing ways.


  • A graphic that somehow compares the five high schools and their traditions.
  • Photos of homecoming celebrations
  • A chart comparing the percentages of students who attend the homecoming dance.
  • Possibly a chart giving numbers of people who attend the football game, if that is a feasible number to get.

 Range of story angles:

  • Data of the number of homecoming tickets sold to see the percentage of interest
  • Overall story on traditions throughout the district and where Kingwood Park stands in year 13
  • Small stories on the origins of certain traditions

How will various information be visually presented:

  • Story form with photos.
  • Possibly lists with small graphics next to the items.

What social responsibility:

  • Just being aware that checking with all schools is good, but also realizing all schools are in different places economically, demographically, etc.

Other questions:

  • None


Story Idea #3: Rising Costs of College

Story Mission and need: Inform students of the rising costs of colleges. What local universities are now offering to low-income students. And options for scholarship money.

Why report It now? Costs of college are a major topic throughout the election with some Democrats discussing wiping out student debt and/or making college affordable/free.

Essential Questions –

  • Where are the majority of our students attending?
  • How are they paying for it?
  • What universities are doing in Texas to make college more affordable?
  • How to help pay for out of state schools?
  • Are kids making choices of universities based on major or costs?

Sources to use –

  • University admissions
  • Counselors
  • Alumni
  • Seniors committed

Potential issues with sources

  • We would probably need to find a sort of expert on this area that could give us a broad, national overview that is based more on research and data than just campus admissions people would give us.
  • The sources at campuses will spin in their favor
  • Politicians will also spin in their favor.

Medium/Media to best tell the story –

  • Newspaper – Space to include multiple stories and a number of forms of alternative copy
  • Web with many hyperlinks that students can click on to dive further into areas that interest them.

Visuals –

  • Graphs with the changing costs of college over the past few decades.
  • Current cost of in-state schools
  • Cost of popular out-of-state schools kids attend.
  • Photos of campuses or photo illustration of kids overwhelmed by college fliers or money

Range of Story Angles and supporting material

  • Data of rising costs over the years
  • Information of the changes in-state schools have made to offer free tuition to low-income families. How long have the programs been in place and who benefits?
  • How are kids paying off debt?
  • What is the future of this situation? Will the costs keep rising? Is there hope that somehow they costs go down?

How will the various information pieces be visually presented?

  • A number of the stories will best be represented in alternative story forms. A lot of graphics. Maybe Q and As.

Info-gathering issues –

  • There will be a lot of data online. Students will have to make sure they have the most up-to-date numbers so that their information is as accurate as possible. It’s a hot button issue and they will have to keep up on what politicians are also saying about it in case something new pops up before publication.
  • If someone wants to interview a student about debt, they will just have to make sure the source knows where the information they share will be published and how it will be used.


Story Idea #4: Teacher Weight Loss

Story mission and need: Three-four teachers have lost a significant amount of weight in the past year. A couple have been public about it on social media. Focus on one — or the group overall — on what prompted the changes and what the journey has been like.

Why report it now: The orchestra teacher has shown an especially significant amount of weight loss and is planning to run in a competitive race. The swim coach also lost a lot of weight and participated in an iron man.

Essential questions

  • Why did you lose weight?
  • What part of the loss was the biggest challenge?
  • How has it impacted your life?

Sources to use

  • The person who lost weight
  • A person who was close to the person who was losing weight
  • Personal trainer


  • Primary place would be newspaper, but I think this would be a good place for some possibly video of workouts, which could accompany the online piece.


  • Current photos of the people working out. Ask them also for pictures from when they were at their heaviest. Maybe even from childhood.
  • A timeline that would give an idea of just how long it took.

Range of story angles, supporting materials.

  • I think supporting material would be a collection of photos they help supply.
  • I think their journey is one angle. Also the struggles throughout. And then a look at the future and their goals and plans to maintain, etc.

Visually presented

  • A long-form story with photos. Maybe a Q&A. Timeline.

Info-gathering issues

  • The students will have to make sure the source(s) are aware of what they want to do with the information and to make sure they think it is ok to be published.
468 ad