Advances in ICT mean that it's now relatively easy for schoolchildren to produce their own newspaper or website. It only gets scary when they try to do it in a day. But that is the daunting task which will face thousands of pupils in March when they take up the challenge of TES Newsday 2004.
Now in its 13th year, the competition is designed to simulate the thrills and spills of a busy newsroom. Pupils have to decide what stories to run, do the necessary research, conduct interviews, write copy, select pictures, design layouts, dream up headlines and 101 other jobs - with the added pressure of knowing that the "i"s have to be dotted and "t"s crossed by the 5.30pm deadline.
"Pupils know that they'll only succeed if they can work as a team," says Brian Robinson, ICT adviser for Redcar and Cleveland. He has been the driving force behind Newsday since its early days when kids had to make do with BBC computers and a dot-matrix printer.
"To make the day special," he says, "pupils must feel that they are responsible for the final productI then they really care about how it turns out and want to make that extra effort. I know things are going really well in a school when, as happens more often these days, it's the children who phone me up with queries and not their teachers."
It's this sense of ownership that has made Newsday such a resounding success, not only in the high-flying sixth-form colleges where bright young things are already planning their glittering careers in the "meeja", but also in hundreds of key stage 1 classrooms and schools for special needs where pupils are relishing this unique opportunity to make their voices heard.
"The quality of entries gets better and better every year," says Brian Robinson." When we started Newsday, the judges awarded a distinction to about six newspapers. Last year over 60 reached that standard."
Schools don't need a state-of-the-art computer suite. It's possible to produce a winning entry with very little more than a PC, a printer, access to the net and the freedom to use a photocopier without first having to kowtow to the school secretary. "It isn't what equipment you have that matters, but how you use it on the day," Brian Robinson says. "What the judges care about is the overall design of the paper, the attention to detailI and - most important of all - the passion with which it's written."
To help schools prepare for their first Newsday, he has produced a CD-Rom packed with advice, hints, case studies and examples of previous winners.
To be in contention for one of the prizes, as well as covering local and school news, the newspaper or website must give prominence to the stories that will grab the headlines in the national media. In last year's competition, for example, the participants had to make sense of the grim brinkmanship at the Security Council which preceded the invasion of Iraq, as well as untangle the evidence in an improbable court case that involved a major, a persistent cough and a pound;1 million cheque.
To keep up to speed, the young journalists have to monitor the net's various newsfeeds. They must be ready at a moment's notice to write-up a breaking story and, if necessary, be prepared to wreck their perfected layout or spike their favourite piece in order to accommodate it.
Filling the inside pages can be a little less stressful. Over the years, Newsday has provided a platform for legions of schoolyard Burchills and Littlejohns eager to put the world to rights, and has offered feature writers the opportunity to wax lyrical on their favourite subject.
This year, if they are stumped for ideas the Newsday website will provide them with background information on NSPCC's Full Stop project and, in complete contrast, on the bizarre sport of "extreme ironing" - an activity which might be considered almost as foolhardy as trying to produce a newspaper in a day.
The event is sponsored by The TES, RM and Granada Learning, Macromedia and USL. A free CD-Rom is available at this year's BETT Show at Olympia, London, January 7-10, or from the organiser: Brian Robinson, RaCIT, Redcar Education Centre, Corporation Road, Redcar TS10 1HA. Keep up to date with the competition and share ideas with other participants at www.newsday.co.ukFor free Dreamweaver MX software: www.macromedia.comsoftwaretrial_downloadAdvice on how to make best use of it at:www.trainingcafe.comThe winner of the best news website 2003: www.eicmarbella.orgtes_newsindex.htm
Newsday offers genuine opportunities for cross-curricular teamwork at every key stage level. It supports learning in ICT, English, design and technology, art, citizenship and media studies. A range of mathematical skills can be put to practical use making the most of a nationwide survey conducted by the participating schools during the Newsday week. Other subject areas can be reflected in the feature pages - and a school could also produce a foreign language supplement.
Newsday can help to build links between school and community. It's great for the school's PR. Display ads for local businesses give pages a professional look - and can help subsidise the publication.
Advice from Newsday organiser, Brian Robinson
* Prepare well in advance of the big day.
* Make maximum use of the free CD-Rom.
* Get well acquainted with the ICT you will be using.
* Decide on page design and font size, and create templates for the various pages.
* Make sure every child knows his or her specific responsibility. Do background research, carry out interviews, take photographs and so on.
* Study newspapers to see how the professionals do it.
* Establish a link with your local newspaper. Professional journalists will be able to offer advice - and might publicise your efforts.
Schools can choose to complete their newspaper or news website on any one day between March 8-12, 2004.
The prize of an RM Tablet PC is awarded in each of these categories: primary; secondary up to KS3; secondary KS4 amp; 5. The best news website wins a one-year site licence for Dreamweaver, Fireworks Flash and Freehand. The best newcomer wins a digital camera. The presentations are made at the House of Commons.