Saturday, May 12, 2012

3 Lessons Schools Can Learn From an Obsolete Hometown Newspaper

Today, I was attempting to read an article from our local newspaper's website. I was trying to access an article through my RSS Reader, when I got the following pop-up:

Subscribe Now
Thanks for being a frequent visitor to You've now viewed your monthly allowance of 5 free premium articles. We're glad you enjoy our site.
Want to read more? For full access, please purchase a monthly or annual Online Unlimited digital subscription for as little as $4.95/month.
If you are already a print subscriber, you can upgrade your account to receive complete access to and our E-Edition. If you have already purchased your online access with your print subscription, just click "Next" below to enroll or call us at 828-384-6479 to upgrade your newspaper subscription to include our digital services.

Our small town newspaper, The Hickory Daily Record, is a mediocre newspaper at best for a number of reasons. First of all, I was once a subscriber, but I stopped home delivery because there would be stretches of days I would not receive it. I would then have to call their office, and the paper seemed content to just give me a credit when I did not receive it rather than find a way to deliver a paper. They inevitably did this rather than resolve the issue of delivery. Secondly, there's not a been a great deal of content in its pages for quite sometime. The paper edition is primarily advertisements, and the paper has had to cut its reporting staff back so much, they aren't even capable of providing the news, except what  news comes to them. Finally, the Hickory Daily Record has become irrelevant as a news source in our region. I can access free news channels such as our local TV stations, and the Charlotte Observer's site and get more information about the happenings in my hometown  than I can in my hometown newspaper. In all honesty, The Hickory Daily Record has become little more than a neighborhood newspaper with absolutely no impact on the community. It is a dinosaur that is still trying to avoid extinction. In some ways, I think public education is trying to avoid the same fate.

As you can see from the pop-up message I received, I could continue reading the article I wanted to see if I paid them $4.95 a month, but I won't pay them and I won't read the article. The whole problem is, the content offered by the Hickory Daily Record isn't worth $4.95 a month to me. You can scan their web site in less than 5 minutes. Unlike the larger newspapers, there isn't a wealth of content, certainly not 5 dollars a month worth. All this brings me to my point, "Newspapers basically still do not get it." While I have no idea how profitable the Hickory Daily Record's efforts to charge for online content is, it can't be sustainable. A glance at their site tells your they offer no amazing exclusive content you can't find elsewhere. A lot of the articles are from news wire services that offer the same text free. And, there is so little news content to begin with, in comparison to larger news sites. The bottom line is my small town newspaper is still caught in 20th century ways of delivering content and appears to be doing little to change. I can't help but wonder if our schools are still caught in the same time warp. We still try to deliver education the way we've always done too. So what can schools learn from my small town newspaper's predicament? Here's three things for thought:

1. In a digital age, we can't simply take what we've always done and post it online or digitize it and call it education. Our technology is clearly disrupting how we do things in our schools, and we'll not contain that force by trying to simply package what we're doing into 21st century packages. We need to fundamentally re-think and re-engineer everything we do in schools and take full advantage of the possibilities of the digital age.

2. We need to fundamentally re-think our digital content which is student learning. If newspapers want to have a hope of surviving online or off, they have to focus on content. People will only pay for content if they see it as engaging or useful, and if they can't get it elsewhere. As schools in the digital age, we must focus on our own "content" which is student learning. Everything we do, from front office procedures to instructional strategies in the classroom need to be about student learning. We need stop being distracted by everything that is not about student learning.

3. Twenty-first century schools need to acknowledge the competition. Newspapers like my small hometown paper haven't done this very well. They are still holding on to the belief that they offer something readers can't get elsewhere. They haven't acknowledged the competition. Whether charter schools, private schools, or virtual schools are better at raising student achievement is still debatable. That argument probably will not be settled any time soon, and most likely it will never be settled. The reality for public schools is that we have competition. Instead of expending large amounts of time discrediting the competition, let's use that energy to make our public schools better. Let's focus on what is most important.

Everyone knows newspapers haven't fared well under the onslaught of web content. Most barely survive. Some have learned that users will pay for content, if that content is of high quality, and if users can't get that same content from elsewhere. My hometown newspaper is still caught in an old paradigm that believes they can approach web content like they did paper content. They can simply post the same content from their newspaper online and people will pay for it. Of course they have tried to add some unique content like videos and information data bases, but its hard to say they've changed their content delivery model very much.  Maybe some will pay 5 dollars a month for this content, but I won't and I am sure many others won't as well. The newspaper is losing me as potential customer and I am sure there are others. If they want me to click that "Pay $4.95 Month" button they need to give me something I do not already have. Public schools would do well learn from this too. If our students aren't getting the education our parents want them to have, they aren't going to keep paying for our schools either. We have to give them the kinds of student learning they can't get elsewhere.


  1. Perhaps one of the first principles of change for school could be acknowledging the value of gathering in one place (in part) to learn without technology at times. There are times when it's advantageous to meet without "apps'; to discuss, to make music, to perform a play, to rap the periodic table. Learning to value the gathering together time without ignoring the online lessons, learning to integrate these, may be a good starting point. Three-year-olds can use apps; making sense of them needs human input. We don't have to have the phones and tablets on all the time in the classroom but the classroom needs to be integrated with what they offer the student. Just a thought or two, from someone who is not really a fan of school buildings, especially ones that have 1,000 students...
    Lorna Howes

    1. As a 20 plus year veteran educator, I agree that there is and always will be value in face-to-face in teaching. I certainly do not advocate a complete move to online learning, nor belittle the value of the teacher. What I do think is mistaken is the educational establishment's tendency to simply repackage what we've always done in our classrooms and call that 21st century learning. We need to take advantage of the technology. For example, with Skype, it is now possible to meet face-to-face with other students on other continents with no cost. That's quite different from just using Skype to deliver lectures. We do no have to have devices all the time in the classroom, but when we do turn them on we need to engage in the use of those devices in 21st century methodology, not superimpose 20th century educational methods on them. I can understand your trepidation at buildings with 1,000 students too. I am glad that my high school only has 135. It makes for a tight learning community. Thanks for sharing.