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Is the over-enthusiastic hand of marketing damaging school news?

Is school news dead?

Photo: & Attain

Attain's Editor, Matthew Smith, reflects on the unhelpful influence of marketing on school news stories. As some schools attempt to produce more and more content, they risk losing any semblance of journalistic quality. Is it time for schools to decide that less can actually be more?

When was the last time you read a brilliant school news story? I have been digesting the news output of schools for nearly 20 years and the world has changed a lot since then. But the values which make up schools remain the same and I fear that the over-enthusiastic hand of marketing risks destroying school news for good.

Two decades ago schools worried about their local newspaper. They wanted to make sure they were talking to prospective parents and would send out timely press releases hoping for coverage. I don't look back with rose-tinted nostalgia but do think that more care, thought and reflection went into the preparation of news. There was more quality than quantity – even if the mechanics of news meant you didn't get many chances to publicise your school.

And that was perhaps a good thing. Yes, I can distinctly remember getting poorly written press releases but the process demanded a sense of quality. At the very least, most schools applied the logic of whether a story was indeed newsworthy – was it of interest beyond the school gate or was it best kept for the newsletter or school magazine?

What we have seen in the past 20 years – with local being engulfed by social media – is what I would dub a 'chuck it at the wall and see what sticks' approach. Clicks mean prizes in today's news economy so the approach lends itself to being guided by page views. But who is clicking and is it really the audience you want – and are they actually reading it? There seems to be a growing obsession with producing more and more output – insights into every detail of a school – but real news is not a numbers game and the quantity of lightweight output from some schools is disappointing. There is also a massive distinction between 'news' and 'stories'... but that's for another day.

So how much news – public, outward-facing, high-quality journalistic content – should a school be producing? I would argue that for a large senior school today, four or five very strong pieces each term would be sensible. For a small prep, one story every half term. You could do more but only if the quality is there.

Schools should resist the marketing pressure as I really do believe that less is more. These should be excellent stories – crafted not written. Working in a school gives you access to a brilliant source of news which highlights the achievements of pupils and reflects the values of a school.

Counter-intuitive as it may feel, it would be better for schools to decide that news is not marketing – the result could be the best marketing they have ever done.

Matthew Smith is the Editor of Attain. Heads, communications and marketing staff at independent schools are very welcome to connect with Matthew via LinkedIn to share thoughts and reflections on the topics discussed.