5 Lessons We Learned From Our High School News Pilot

Last spring, we produced a four week, bootstrapped pilot with six teachers across three states as a proof of concept to see if teachers and students would be interested in a weekly news explainer show. We “bootstrapped” it, meaning, we didn’t use professional shooters, editors, motion graphic artists, or sets of any kind. While we can’t share with you the finished product (we used photos and videos we did not have the rights to), we can share with you these seven lessons we learned. The feedback was invaluable, and we’ll be incorporating it into our next pilots!

#1: “Don’t talk down to us.”

Our host, Angie McPhearson, on our improvised set.

The number one piece of feedback we got from student was: “Don’t talk down to us.” Students know that the news is important, and that they should take it seriously. Our original approach was to try and make our scripts more informal and lighthearted, with puns and small jokes inserted here and there. As one student wrote, “Don’t try to joke—just give us the news.”

“It’s a success! The kids really enjoyed it. They like the style, the politically unbiased view of the news, and they appreciate the personal feel from the reporter.”

– JD Lister, AP Government, Bridgeport, WV

2. High schoolers don’t want the “kids” version of the news.

Right now, there are a lot of great options out there to help parents and elementary school children to try and understand the news. The New York Times, TIME Magazine, and even NBC Nightly News all produce a “for kids” product to help young children make sense of news and current events. (Axios’ Sara Fischer had a great write-up about this a couple weeks ago.) NOTICE News, however, is aimed at an older demographic. Our pilot was used in journalism classes, civics classes, and AP English classes, all reaching mostly upperclassmen. A 17 year old or an 18 year old is not interested in the “for kids” version of the news. Coincidentally, the original version of our logo was blue and pink; several students hated that.

Our original logo and color scheme, which we replaced after negative feedback from students.

“Many students thought this was a really good way to pique interest in the current news. Unless it’s an assignment, they don’t spend the time keeping up-to-date. We talked about the fact that they were all sort of dropped into this news cycle in medius res. They recognize that these are ongoing stories that evolve quickly and assume that next week it will be easier to follow because they would have some familiarity with the topics.”

– Denise Foster, AP English Language, Lake Forest, Illinois

3. In-depth is better, students already know the headlines.

For this pilot, we produced a weekly, five minute show that included a mix of news headlines and in-depth pieces. We got a number of comments about how students and teachers appreciated us taking the time to explain the news and provide context, which is exactly our mission. Our earlier episodes featured a roundup of brief news headlines at the top of the show. We had nixed that by the end, as several students commented one sentence about a news story isn’t enough and they were already getting the headlines elsewhere.

“My students have been very attentive for each one – and since I teach mostly seniors that is no small feat. The format is great… it is just enough to give them context but not too much that they lose focus.”

– Kym Grillot, AP Government Teacher, Fort Thomas, Kentucky

4. Creating a show isn’t enough, students need more.

When we started the pilot, we were delivering along with our five minute show a set of questions for teachers to lead the class in discussion (this was right before the pandemic forced a mass shift to virtual learning). As the weeks went by, teachers and students said they wanted more. So we built a website that housed the show but also gave students links to further, trusted resources as well as had an interactive news quiz, to see how much they had learned from this week’s show. Teachers really liked this, as it allowed students to dig in on stories that really interested them.

Our prototype website that housed our pilot, which included a quiz and links to extra resources.

5. It has to be easy for teachers to use.

The number one piece of feedback we got from teachers is that it has to be easy to use or teachers won’t use. Our teachers are drastically overworked. What we offer and produce for them has to fit seamlessly into what they’re already doing. It can’t be a heavy lift, or they just won’t use it. Also, it has to be tied to standards, so that everything links back to what teachers must include in their curriculum. That’s why at NOTICE, we’re approaching this with a teacher-first attitude. We want to partner with and empower teachers to use the news and current events in their classrooms, to help make a new generation of thoughtful, engaged citizens.

But we need your help!

We learned so much from our last pilot, and we’re gearing up to make a set of new pilots, but we need your help! Last week, we launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $15,000 to produce a set of new, professionally produced pilots we can take to potential funders and producing pilots. We’re already halfway to our goal, but we still have a ways to go! Every little bit helps: $10, $20, $50, anything you can give!

Andrew Springer is the Founder and Executive Producer of NOTICE News. An Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist, producer and entrepreneur, he created the first news show on Snapchat, “Stay Tuned.” He’s led social media teams at NBC News, ABC News, “Good Morning America,” and Mashable. He’s a graduate of The Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and The George Washington University.