By Brad Hughes
KSBA Director of Member Support Services
“You really should do a story in your magazine about our program.”
“You didn’t have the paper’s story about our program in your news headlines.”
Over the years, those would be my top two “If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard…” comments by school board members, superintendents and other readers of the Kentucky School Advocate and the daily KSBA eNews. Rather than complaints, I consider such statements indicators of the value people place on these two services.
Having heard a variation of both of those comments recently, I thought it might be time to offer a refresher on how we pick our topics, find our stories and generally determine what magazine readers see 11 times a year and eNews subscribers get in their morning and afternoon headlines five days a week.
Both services share two common goals: to keep local school leaders in the know, while also giving them a look at school issues and solutions from the perspectives of their counterparts statewide.
In this month’s column, we’ll explore how the eNews Service works. Look for the inside story on the Kentucky School Advocate in this space in December.
Searching what’s what in the news
In the twice-daily eNews service, we basically go to mainstream news sources, looking for K-12 stories. We occasionally use our own stories and items from sources like KDE’s online magazine Kentucky Teacher, but day in, day out, the overwhelming bulk of articles we provide come from mainstream media.
There are around 35 daily newspaper and broadcast media that we check for news content every day of the week. Then there are more than 60 weekly or twice-weekly newspapers we check on the days they most frequently update their websites.
Note the phrase “most frequently.” Increasingly, morning papers are putting breaking news stories on the Web in the afternoon or evening, even though they won’t appear in print until the next day. And while weekly papers usually come to your homes on the same day every week, there often is no rhyme or reason for when a weekly news outlet’s website gets updated. So sometimes we miss a story unless it’s still on the media site on our next check.
As more media outlets go to online paid access, producing this service becomes more costly and time consuming.
Making the cut, twice a day
Each eNews email contains 10-12 stories. We face the same issue as mainstream media sources – some days there are lots of stories and then there are the slow news days. We tend to select “hard news” stories, but will pick a good Kentucky feature story over an interesting-but-not-groundbreaking story from a border state. For every day we use a significant national or Ohio or Tennessee story, there are at least three days when we have more Kentucky stories than we can use.
We didn’t just pick a 10-12 article limit out of the air; we’ve come to know when we have too many headlines. For example, when test scores come out, we may have as many as 20 stories in a single update, in an effort to give as much attention to as many districts as possible.
All of these factors led us to create the weekly story text service that subscribers receive, usually on Saturday. This provides bonuses. First, busy people who missed and deleted a day’s worth of headlines can catch up. And second, the Word documents that contain the story texts – if you save them – serve as a searchable database for those times you want to see what other districts have done on tax rates, drug testing, pay raises and a host of other common issues from one end of Kentucky to the other.
Of course, districts with news media that do not have an online presence get less coverage in eNews. But if your local paper writes an important school story – and is willing to give KSBA permission to reissue that story – we’re glad to enhance our statewide coverage.
And while we do use some news releases – for example, from the state or U.S. departments of education and occasionally from in-state universities (if the topic seems of interest to K-12 professionals) – we aren’t able to use submitted district or school press releases.
But…if your local newspaper picks the release up and uses it in a story, we give that article equal consideration with whatever else is available online that day.
The Last Word
With every email of headlines, almost 2,800 education leaders have the opportunity to know and understand elementary and secondary education in Kentucky a little better. They are school board members and superintendents, Education Commissioner Terry Holliday and state school board members, deans and professors at colleges of education, leaders of the Prichard Committee, the Education Professional Standards Board, Office of Education Accountability, reporters who cover education, principals, central office administrators and many others with an interest in public education in this state.
This isn’t a 30 minutes-in-the-morning and 45 minutes-in-the-afternoon service. It’s seven days (and most nights) a week, 52 weeks a year. Based on what our readers are telling us, you think the service is worth every minute of our time and every dollar of your subscription.
And that’s a message worth getting out.