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Weekly News Archive

November 14 (’04) – November 20 (’04)

Other Voices

[Sunday Nov 14.04 ¬ 10:13 PM]

Some days ago, through a series of interesting convergences, I found myself being pointed at this website, the home of the Paly Voice, an internet publication originating from Palo Alto High School.

My interest was immediately piqued for two distinct reasons: First, it looked like a well-designed and well-implemented website with good material; and second, it appeared to be created and maintained wholly by students.

It’s basically an online journalistic work, little different from the Jacket or similar publications, save for the fact that it’s exclusively digital—there’s no paper version. Such endeavours are common, of course, and student-created ones exist as well, but a quality publication that comes solely from a student body is very rare. Berkeley High’s award-winning school paper, the Jacket, is maybe one such example, though of course that’s a printed publication. And even the Jacket has its ups and downs.

The point is that anything out of a high school that approaches a professional level of quality—or at least is good enough that you can appreciate it as an example of its medium rather than merely see it as “good for high schoolers”—is an impressive and noteworthy achievement. Berkeley High has perhaps more than its fair share of these, from ITPs to the Jazz Ensemble, but we certainly don’t have a monopoly. The Paly Voice is an example of that.

Laura Mitchell, one of the Voice’s student editors, was accommodating enough to answer some of my questions about their “paper.” Since she was about as articulate as I’m likely to be, I’ll just post the bulk of our casual interview here verbatim. Further questions should be directed toward the Voice’s staff. Check out the site and see what you think.

Is the site's content written solely by students? How about editing?

All site content is written by journalism students at Paly.  We have an editorial staff of seven seniors.  Three tech editors, 2 editors in chief, and 2 print/ news editors.  Our editorial staff does all editing of both stories and site pages. 

Is there a paper counterpart to the website, or is it published exclusively online?

The work that the web staff (Paly Voice staff) writes is published exclusively online, unless it is republished somewhere else, which does happen occasionally.  However, the Voice also posts the work of the three other Paly journalism programs: The Campanile (our school newspaper, which comes out once every 3 weeks), Verde (the school magazine, printed about once every 6 weeks), and Quicktime files of In Focus (broadcast journalism - a 2 minute reading of the daily announcements and then a 3 minute segment about something happening on campus).

What's the updating schedule? Is there a regular  publication cycle? Do articles just go up whenever they're done?

We run what is called a "beat system."  Each of our staff members has a certain topic they report on for a quarter (we switch every quarter, to provide a little variety).  For example, we split up sports teams, campus facilities, student government, clubs, etc... This gives the reporters a little flexibility in what events they cover and when they cover them.  As for an updating schedule... Because we are an online publication and have the ability to post stories almost immediately, we do not run on a specific schedule.  As soon as a story has been completed, we post it on the front page.  This allows for a much more up-to-the-minute kind of coverage.  That having been said, reporters do run on a time limit for each story.  Once a story is "old news" we will not put it online.

Who designed the Voice's site and who maintains it -- putting up the new content and general tinkering and so forth?

As to who designed Voice, the original designer was Nick Elprin. He created the basic database and admin system and the site's original style (we've gone through a number of redesigns since then).  Robbie and Aaron Stone, former students at Paly, quickly caught on and helped out with work on the database and server side issues. Jimmy Chen (current tech editor) made the design that we currently use, and Timon Karnezos, Jimmy Chen, and Moonway Lin do the tinkering.  In addition, sophomores Patrick Horn, Eric Meltzer, and Jim Shen, new additions to the staff, are training to take over when current tech eds leave.  They started of this year transferring the site on to a new server when our old one crashed.

How is the site funded?

The site gets no funding from the school or district.  It is entirely funded by students; through advertising sales or donations made to the program.

What's the role of school faculty and staff in the management, publication, writing, and supervision of the Voice?

We have an advisor, Paul Kandell.  His job is to, well, advise.  The class is student-run, so the main ideas and changes come from us, but he gets to weigh in a little.  Generally, editors and staff members go to him for help when they're not sure how to resolve an issue or would like some outside advice.

What's the history of the Voice? When did it come about, for what  reason, and what's its current overall status?

In the words of an article written by Kristen Barta and Thomas O'Connell, Voice history goes something like this:  "Begun in the summer of 2002, the Voice was little more than a vision maintained by a handful of technically gifted students. Today, less than two years later, the site has grown in both reputation and stature among our school's student publications. A finalist in the National Scholastic Press Association's Online Pacemaker category two years in a row, the Voice started with high standards and we have no intention of letting then slip."

To make that a little more current, we went from finalist in the National Scholastic Press Association's Online Pacemaker for two years, to winning a Pacemaker last year.  We are now receiving over 1000 unique visitors a day, and feedback from throughout the world.

What's the goal and focus of the Voice? To be student-run project? To  provide news for the students? Just to exist, for the experience of it?

We have a couple main goals, which we revisit and reevaluate about once a quarter.  In general, we hope to provide news and information on a variety of subjects pertaining to Paly students, but which are also applicable to people worldwide.  We won the National Pacemaker for Online Journalism at the scholastic level last year, which named us as one of the top three high school journalism sites in the country.  One of our goals: maintain that high standard.  Individually, each student wishes to further their journalism abilities, as a staff we want to implement changes to the site that will increase readers, set new standards for high school journalism sites, and maintain an attractive layout that is easy to navigate.  As you might have seen on our site, we try out new features in our right bar.  We have hosted advice columns, verbatim sections, and sports scores there in the past.  Currently, we have the most recent "In Focus" broadcast and our staff blog. 

Brandon

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