Highland’s student online newspaper growing with new major

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ROCKFORD — While high school journalism classes venture into the digital world, area community colleges in the area are already there: Both Rock Valley College and Highland Community College have done away with print newspapers, and started expanding the digital tools available to their students.

At Highland Community College, Mass Communications professor and Highland Chronicle Adviser Kate Perkins said she’s enjoyed seeing the program grow over the past three years.

Two years ago the Highland Chronicle printed monthly and had staff of four. Today, following the college’s formation of a mass communications major at the college, the staff of 15 manage an online news site and print a magazine once each semester.

“There’s this excitement with online news,” she said. “The students are excited to share their stories on their Facebook and Twitter accounts. It really gets the word out a lot better.”

Funding for the Chronicle is built into the curriculum, and the class is taught as a practicum. It is an elective for any major on campus to join, but a requirement for the mass communication students. The class is taught as a hybrid, only meeting on Tuesdays, while the instructional portion of the class done using Highland’s online education system, which is where Perkins assigns weekly stories.

“I try really hard to be hands off,” Perkins said. “I don’t assign stories or story topics; I don’t even edit. There are times that I want to, but we have a student editor. Of course if there is something really structurally wrong, I will kick it back to the editor.”

Students post directly to the website, which has a check-in function Perkins uses to ensure assignments are posted on time. Of the 15 students in her class this semester, only a third are considering a career in journalism.

“There are a few mass comm majors who are really looking to make this into a career,” she said. “But some are all over the place. I have science majors and nursing majors. They’re just people who like to write.”

The adjustment from print to digital came with a learning curve, especially for simple changes such as hyperlinks and photograph file sizes, but Perkins said students were happy to tackle them. She attributes the program’s growth to the new mass communications major and to Highland’s digital progression as a whole.

“We are coming into the future with a lot of hard work of a lot of faculty,” she said. “Online news fits into the new atmosphere at Highland.”

Meanwhile, at Rock Valley College in Rockford, The Valley Forge staff coordinates all of their planning efforts digitally. Jerry LaBuy, mass communications professor and The Valley Forge adviser, said the decision to forgo print, as well as open the Valley Forge staff up to non-journalism majors was made in 2016 in order to boost involvement.

The staff of 16, half editors and half content contributors, does nearly all of their brainstorming and editing via email.

“With all the budget things, we don’t really have a designated meeting space right now,” LaBuy said. “And with the new nature of how we’re doing it everything is done online and a lot of the work is done at home.”

The Valley Forge operates as an extracurricular club, so it is not part of a class. Its staff is not paid. However, LaBuy said by opening the paper up to non-journalism students, the staff has been able to expand the kinds of content they can produce.

“Anyone who wants to contribute can,” he said. “We’ve had audio podcasts, video shows, right now we’re trying to put together a photo essay of life on the RVC campus. The students provide all the content; I just give them advice and manage the website.”

 Kayli Plotner: 815-987-1391; kplotner@rrstar.com; @kayplot

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May 6, 2017 at 02:45AM

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Highland’s student online newspaper growing with new major

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