N.H. student newspaper switches to online-only format after journalism program cut

NEW HAMPSHIRE — A student newspaper at a New Hampshire high school has changed to an online format after the journalism class supporting the print publication was cut this year to make way for an additional English class.

The faculty adviser for Exeter High School’s student newspaper, The Talon, said he created the online-only format when the publication became an extracurricular activity and participation in the news organization declined. But the organization’s first plunge into the Web, ehspress.com, has largely been supported by the adviser and students.

In April, administrators proposed canceling the journalism class in order to allocate more time to an additional section of English, and the plan was implemented for the 2014-15 school year. Under the change, the student publication became a volunteer-run extracurricular activity.

Robert Schneider, who has advised The Talon, and now ehspress.com, for 26 years, was the catalyst for the transition to digital. He said that the administration did not decide that the publication would go to an online format.

“I took a look at the situation and said, ‘OK, I’m ready to switch to online because I know that I can’t do the print version any longer with a volunteer staff,” he said. “And I’ve been doing this a long time, so I was really excited about the idea of doing an online publication instead of the print one.”

Project for Better Journalism, a nonprofit organization that provides journalism classes and student publications with a free online platform and technical support, hosts the student news operation.

Michael Morgan, superintendent of Exeter High School’s district, said it was not a decision to single out the journalism program. One semester of the drama class was also canceled for this school year.

“Exeter is growing, and its high school budgets are growing,” Morgan said. “I think it really was a financial issue and trying to keep class sizes in some other subjects low — lower. It was still in the mid-20s in some cases.”

Schneider said 19 students worked on the newspaper staff during the spring semester. Currently, about 10 students are involved with the website.

Exeter has more than 1,700 students enrolled this year. He said there were about 17 teachers in the English department already, and the district didn’t want to add another teacher because of budget concerns. Keeping the journalism course would have meant adding a teacher or increasing class sizes for required English courses.

The decision to cancel the journalism class was not meant to cancel The Talon, Morgan said. The plan was to move to an extracurricular model with a volunteer staff and to provide a stipend for the adviser, similar to the yearbook’s change a few years ago.

“We’re excited about the opportunity to print more material,” Schneider said, “and with greater timeliness.”

SPLC staff writer Anna Schiffbauer can be reached by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 127.