Journo Adviser

Exploring the worlds where teaching, advising, and coding coincide.

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Why music teachers matter

April 2, 2014

An elementary school orchestra makes a terrible sound, and any parent who tells you otherwise is a liar. But as my daughter’s orchestra conductor led his beginners through a simple song in their first ever concert last year, he smiled broadly, kept the beat with emphatic arms, and seemed to hear only beautiful sounds. Read More

What parents don’t want to hear at parent-teacher conferences

March 30, 2014

When my wife and I sat down at our daughter’s 5th grade parent-teacher conference last week, we hoped to get a sense that the teacher understood our daughter and her strengths and weaknesses.  But we didn’t. 

Instead, the teacher provided us with a litany of numbers and test results the school and the education-testing industry use to define our daughter and her education. Read More

Ten tips for using categories and tags on your WordPress news site

March 25, 2014

#1: Multimedia should be a state of mind, not a category. 

Don’t fall into the habit of thinking of Multimedia as a category that’s separate from other categories on your site. For an online news staff, using multimedia should mean offering readers more than just text stories –– they should be adding video clips, photo slideshows, audio clips, embedded infographics, and more.   All of your categories should contain stories with multimedia, whether they’re News, Sports, Features, or Entertainment stories.  With each story your staff writes, they should be asking what multimedia elements they can add to that story rather than having multimedia be something that exists on the fringe of the site. Read More

Five things you should remove from your website homepage

March 21, 2014


#1: Weather widgets

Unless you have a meteorologist on staff, you really shouldn’t put weather reports on your site.  Weather widgets might give your site the “feel” of a professional news site, but that feel is just a cheap imitation, and not even a useful one at that.   Your readers are visiting your site for your stories, photos, and videos, not a weather report. If they want to learn what the weather is Read More

Rethinking the homepage [Part 1]: The Big Story Day

November 7, 2013

My students don’t get to cover big stories very often, so when one of our sports teams makes it to the state title game, we definitely consider it a big story day.  This year, when the girls soccer team of our school was playing for the state championship on Oct 31, my online editor-in-chief decided to make over the homepage for the day in order to showcase the staff’s work on that big story.  She removed all the usual category preview widgets, the video widget, and the social media widgets from the normally busy homepage and simplified the site to three main elements:

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Tools vs. Skills: Rethinking WordPress and the focus of modern scholastic journalism

August 27, 2013

Our students use a lot of tools in their work as journalists; they use physical tools such as computers, phones, recording devices, card readers, and cameras, but they also use software tools such as InDesign, PhotoShop, and Microsoft Word. It seems that in the last five years, there’s been a veritable explosion of new tools that my students and I use in the journalism classroom: Google Docs, WordPress, iMovie, GarageBand, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine,, and on and on.

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Exploring options for long-form journalism in WordPress

July 31, 2013

The New York Times Snowfall story was the first that caught my attention, and it wasn’t long after that that I saw Rough Ride, a story about the oil boom in North Dakota by Todd Melby, and then I saw ESPN’s The Long Strange Trip of Doc Ellis.  These long-form stories are not just beautifully written, but their web experience is storytelling re-imagined. 

With the Knight Errant staff, for the last five years, we’ve always had a dual focus on longer, more developed stories and short, quick hits that cater to our audience’s short attention span.  But our longer stories only rarely hit 800 or 1000 words, a far cry from long-form journalism.  This past winter, I wanted to change that –– I wanted someone on my staff to take months rather than days or weeks to write a story.  For the Knight Errant’s first attempt at long-form journalism, I looked to my senior staff writers, and to one in particular.  Anne Arnason had proven herself as one of my top writers, and she was looking for something to do, so I asked her if she wanted to try something that the Knight Errant had never done.  When I saw that that question excited her, I knew she was the right choice. Read More

Rethinking and redesigning the WordPress story page for scholastic journalism

April 22, 2013

I urge my journalism students to think about their readers when they write––to make sure their stories are engaging from the first word and to think about what their readers already know, what they want to know, and what they need to know.  

After they finish writing and we’re laying out the print edition of the paper, we think constantly about the reader’s experience on the page and how we can make it better.  We think about how the person skimming through the paper will experience it and how we can get them to stop and read.  We make sure that the story is not just readable, but that it appears to be readable.  Then we realized this year that we were doing a poor job of paying attention to our readers’ experiences when they read stories on our website.
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Developing an authentic and effective grading system in a journalism class

April 8, 2013

Every year I struggle with how to grade my journalism students –– they all have different responsibilities and assignments, and there just isn’t an easy formula for grading all the things they do.  Some students write, some take pictures, some design pages, some copyedit, and some lead and coordinate –– none of it translates easily into points.  And to make it even harder, my school’s grading software is built around two main assumptions: one is that the entire class is doing the exact same thing at the exact same time, and the other is that everything accomplished in a classroom can be reduced to points in the first place.

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10 social media strategies for next year’s staff

March 21, 2013

One of the conversations I’ll be having with my new editorial leaders this spring in preparation for next year is how we can use social media more effectively.  While my students spend their time using social media for their personal lives, that use hasn’t translated into them always using it effectively for our publications.  Too often for my staff, social media has been an afterthought, but for next year’s staff, social media will be a part of every planning and publishing conversation. 

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