I’ll do my best to make this story short. I’m a student teacher this year at an Oregon high school that is preparing for drastic budget cuts. As such, the budget is nearly gone for production of the student newspaper that I’m helping advise. My mentor teacher and her students were trying not to succumb to doom and gloom, and we started looking for ways to turn this change into an opportunity.
So, again, how does a student newspaper take the prospect of NO MONEY and turn it into an opportunity? First, all of the students agreed to start hustling advertising sales, which is new and kind of scary for a lot of them, but puts them in a situation that is no different than any professional news publication. Second, we started considering affordable (or free!) options for developing an online presence for the newspaper, just in case there were times when we wouldn’t be able to pay for paper publication.
Two years ago a pair of students started developing a website for this paper, and it’s getting close to being ready for launch. But that process is always more complicated than anyone wants it to be. So while that’s in the works, we were looking for free online publishing options. A blog would be the first logical choice, but the school district has blocked any and all social media sites, including blogs. So that was out.
After a bit more digging, I found Issuu.com through an association of journalism teachers in Virginia. Issuu.com is a free (or $20/month for extra features) site that lets you upload just about any kind of document so it can turn into a shiny, almost magical online magazine. The results have a very iPad-y vibe, even when you’re not looking at them on an iPad.
When my mentor teacher and I showed the Issuu.com demo video to our students this week, they were absolutely enchanted. There were pockets of exclamation around the room that were so encouraging: “We could do new issues whenever we want! … We could publish photo spreads in color! … We can put hyperlinks in the stories! … We could link to it on Facebook! … It’s like Christmas morning! … It’s going to make all our dreams come true!”
So our student production manager decided to test the site by uploading files from the students’ most recent issue from December. He showed us the results yesterday and I heard gasps and “wow!” across the classroom. When he finished the demonstration, we actually burst into applause.
We’re planning to use Issuu.com while the newspaper transitions to online publishing, and it’s likely we’ll continue using it even after the paper’s full website is launched. We like it that much. I particularly like that it still leaves room for students to practice page design while incorporating web elements such as embedded video functions (hopefully this will make for a good match with our upcoming use of SchoolTube.com). The students like it because they will be able to share it in school assemblies and recruitment presentations, they will be able to link to it on their social media sites at home, their parents will be able to email it to their friends, the school will be able to link to it on its website, and the students will be able to say on their resumes and college applications that they were part of their school’s first-ever online news publication.
Meanwhile, I’m thinking of using Issuu.com for my upcoming school presentations and reports, and ideas are brewing for ways to use the site for my creative writing. I am continually excited and amazed by all of the free or low-cost tools available to us on the web. Our opportunities are nearly limitless at this point. Doom and gloom, be gone!