Brian Benton signed up for a beginning journalism class during his sophomore year at Palo Alto High School to test the waters a bit. He couldn't have asked for a better test, as the journalism program at "Paly" (the school's nickname) is both nationally known and highly regarded.
By the end of the year, Benton was hooked, and in May 2011, he became a co-editor-in-chief of The Campanile, the California high school's award-winning newspaper.
One might think Benton spends most of his time poring over copy, but that's hardly his reality. In fact, technology has transformed the way Benton and his fellow student journalists report the news: He actually spends almost as much time editing video and image-based slideshows as he does producing a paper.
"We're working hard to get more out of our stories by adding videos or photo slideshows to them when they're posted online," says Benton, a senior who will graduate in June. "That's definitely the way people want their journalism delivered right now. It's a lot easier to watch a minute-long video than to read a 1,000-word story."
Paly is responding to this transformation in the way news is consumed by building a 20,000-square-foot facility for its media arts program and by deploying an array of technologies that would make most community news organizations green with envy. In addition to the print and online newspapers, journalism program participants produce five magazines and the yearbook; oversee The Paly Voice (palyvoice.com), a web-only news operation that supplements content from the print titles and serves as the online host for four of the program's five publications; and run a TV studio that broadcasts daily programming to Palo Alto Unified School District's two high schools and three middle schools.
All of these operations have had a lot of technology for a while, says Ann Dunkin, director of information technology for Palo Alto USD. "If disk space is any indication, video production has really taken off — as the cost of cameras has come down, the ability to generate and edit high-definition video has increased. We keep having to talk with them about how many bytes of video they have on our servers," she laughs.
It's an ongoing problem because almost everything the journalism students produce ends up online, Dunkin continues. "They'd like to publish to tablets too, but frankly, the costs are a huge barrier."
Journalism teacher Esther Wojcicki, widely credited as the decades-old program's matriarch, says technology allows her to better monitor the activities of all 78 student contributors. "How do I manage so many of them and individualize the program for each of them?" she asks. "You normally can't. The way we do it is through technology."
Everything is done on computers, from writing and editing to communicating with each other via web-based e-mail lists and groups. "I can see every story as it comes through, and I see the communication going on among the entire staff," Wojcicki explains. "We have six editors-in-chief, and they can coordinate with other students at any time of the day or night through text or video chats. It wasn't always like that, but this system is better and more effective."
Paul Kandell, a journalism teacher and adviser at Paly, marvels at how engaged his students are with the technology and at what it enables. "It feels like we aren't just treading water," he says. "If you're existing in the print world only, it's hard to get students as enthused or get the community excited about your work. In today's world, it's just not going to happen."
One of the first technologies Paly's journalism students learn is Adobe InDesign, which professional designers use to create publication layouts. They also develop proficiency in Adobe Photoshop and other Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 tools. Student photographers shoot with Canon Rebel digital cameras, and students working in the program's broadcasting division use digital camcorders from Canon, Panasonic and Aiptek.
"Most of the software they use is from Adobe because those are tools they'll use as journalists," Dunkin says. "We own site licenses across all five secondary schools for these products."
Most of the hardware is refreshed every four years, although some pieces are upgraded more frequently and others remain in the rotation far longer. The journalism department donates anything it's finished using to other programs and departments around the district.
The school also encourages students to use social media in the classroom and as part of their reporting. Although many administrators and communities "fight to keep social media out of schools, we fully embrace this technology and seek out opportunities to push the edges with it," Kandell says.
Within the next year, Paly's journalism department will transition into its new media arts building, which will be outfitted with the very latest in fiber-optic technology to allow for live editing and faster data transmission.
Wojcicki, who already distributes much of her coursework to students online, says the beefed-up infrastructure will further enhance her teaching in important ways. "I send out links to articles I want my students to read," she says. "Ten years ago, I had to cut them out of the paper, copy them and then hand them out to students. Now, students can read this content at home or on their cell phones. I don't care where they read it, as long as they read it. Then we can talk about it in class because they're already informed."
Teachers and students also will continue to benefit from the ways in which current and future technology offerings ease production. "The paste-up process is gone," Wojcicki explains. "It's all done online now. I used to have to run the mocked-up paper to the printer, and it was always at midnight. Now, we just upload it to an FTP site and the printer has it in two minutes. It's remarkable."
Benton, who hopes to pursue a journalism career, says the technology available to Paly's journalism students has made a huge difference in how they work and has encouraged more students to enroll in the program.
"Journalism teaches students professionalism, which is something few other classes do," he says. "Communicating with others is such an important skill to have in the real world, and journalism teaches that really well."
Millennials (those currently 18 to 34 years old) define their generation largely by technology:
94% use the Internet;
94% own cell phones;
83% use social networking sites;
70% have notebook computers;
56% download apps;
24% say technology use makes their generation unique.
SOURCE: Pew Internet & American Life Project