When I got hired as the journalism adviser for my new high school, I got the sense that this was not a coveted position. No one seemed to be fighting for this job. At first I was baffled, but later I realized that many people view newspaper as a fading art. The cost of publication is high, no one wants to manage a budget, advertising, and all of the other overhead costs that go along with it. When I asked about the budget, I was met with silence. The paper had not been profitable, nor had a standing budget in years.
As the new journalism adviser (woo-hoo) at my high school I am excited about moving the school newspaper from the paper publication that was last published two years ago to a fabulously engaging (award-winning) digital publication that I imagine. With few resources, I am excited about taking the program in a new direction. My plan is to digitalize journalism and maybe even look into publishing a quarterly print magazine in the future. I decided to tackle the online newspaper idea first. I know that there are some veteran advisers that cringe at the thought of being totally online. I find the idea exciting and a great starting place for a program with a limited budget.
There are a few basic steps to take when getting an online newspaper started. The three main tasks include:
- Purchasing a domain name yourname.com
- Establishing web hosting
- Selecting a design theme
Let’s look at these steps individually.
Your domain name is how people actually find you on the web. Think of the sites you visit often. Everyone knows how to get to www.google.com or the famous (or infamous) www.facebook.com. Your school publication needs its own name as well. How will people find you? What will be easy to remember? Your goal is to make your domain name unique enough that people will remember you and not end up in the wrong location. Even though a school is a nonprofit organization, you want a name that is available as a dot com. People recognize and know how to find dot coms a lot easier. You also want to keep it as short as possible. No one wants to type in a lot of characters, much less spell them all. Finally, don’t be cute! Avoid cute spellings, sayings, or trends. This is your brand and your image. What sounds hip today may be embarrassing in five years. Once you select a domain name, buy it! Surprise: your name is taken. It happens. A lot. You may have to go through a couple of names before you find one that is avalaible.
To search for your domain name, you can go anywhere. My students will find their own name and do it using Go Daddy. Go Daddy is around ten bucks annually and is easy to use. Google ‘go daddy coupon code’ and easily find a discount code to make that price even cheaper. Once you find an available name on Go Daddy, you can purchase it using PayPal or a credit account. Now you own the name: the first step to your online presence.
Web hosting is the process of who makes sure that your site is up and running. They don’t do anything, but keep it live. Web hosting companies are all over. I keep my hosting with Go Daddy as well. I have used other companies in the past with varying levels of success. I find that Go Daddy just tends to be the industry leader and I feel comfortable with their online and phone customer service if I have a question or need help. There are different packages that you can select. You really have to play around to see what works best for you. Remember that you can change it at any point, so go with the cheapest package that fits your needs.
Content Management System
Now that you own your name and have someone to host it, how do you get started publishing content? There are lots of ways, but I will use Word Press with my students. Originally popularized as blogging software, Word Press has expanded in usability to serve as a comprehensive content management system. This is the same platform I use to publish my own blogs and the learning curve is not too steep.
Word Press has two options. WordPress.org is the self hosted version and WordPress.com is the (almost) free version that they host for you. I decided to go ahead and sign up for WordPress.org. If the section above on hosting sounded a bit daunting, you may want to try Word Press.com. They will host your site for free. There are less customization options on this version, but the interface is the same. This means that you can train your students to use it and they will understand how to use both types in case you upgrade later.
Once you have these three elements in place, your online site is ready for content! So far you have spent about twenty dollars. Each month your reoccurring cost for hosting will be around ten dollars as well. If you opted for the WordPress.com option, you don’t even have that monthly cost. The start-up costs are pretty minimal. Of course you can take it up a notch and buy a theme or other options that you fancy, but you have the basics for a nominal cost.