Produce a Student Newspaper - and Website - on a Tight Budget

Students studying together on campus
Moxie Productions/Blend Images/Getty Images

As school districts nationwide face the prospect of leaner budgets, some schools are downsizing or even eliminating their student newspapers. School administrators argue that the high costs of printing, computer software and web hosting services make student publications just too expensive in a time when the economy remains sluggish.

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to produce a student newspaper on the cheap.

Here are some ways of doing just that.

Layout software: QuarkXpress and Adobe's InDesign are the industry standards when it comes to layout software. Both are extremely sophisticated programs, but the downside is that both are also very expensive.

But there are free alternatives available. Probably the best option is Scribus, a surprisingly versatile program, given the price. Scribus offers many of the features included in Quark and InDesign. Of course, it's not as sleek or multifaceted as those programs, but if you're looking for an inexpensive way of laying out pages, this is probably the way to go. One very nice feature – it's very easy to create PDF files from layouts using Scribus.

Microsoft Publisher is another layout program that's often included with other Microsoft office software. it's not as versatile as Scribus, but it's probably easier to learn.

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Printing: Printing is probably the biggest expense in producing any newspaper, and while some schools are going all-digital and eliminating their student papers, I think this is a mistake. There are still more than 1,300 newspapers across the country, and those papers need employees who have layout skills.

Students at schools with no printed paper aren't acquiring those skills.

But if the cost of producing a paper at your current printer has become prohibitive, shop around. You'd be surprised at how dramatically prices can vary at different printing operations, even in a relatively small area.

For instance, when the student newspaper at my college was switching printers, I checked prices at several different printing presses locally and found the cost of producing an eight- or 12-page paper could vary by as much as $300 per issue. And if you find a printshop that will give you a better deal, quote that price to your current printer. Don't be surprised if they're willing to cut their price to be competitive.

Web hosting: I said earlier that it's important to maintain a printed paper. Likewise, every student news operation should also have a website. Again, this is an area where you might be surprised at the good deals you can find, especially if you currently spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars a year for a web hosting service. In fact, it's even possible to run a very basic website for free, using services like or WordPress.

But if you want something a bit more sophisticated than a simple blog, it's worth shopping around for free or inexpensive web hosting services, because there are plenty of options out there.


Once you pick a web host, you'll want to choose a content management system (CMS) that's simple enough for any student to master fairly quickly. Again, there are lots of options available, and several services specifically designed for student newspapers, including School Newspapers Online and Your Student News. Both offer competitive pricing packages, and SNO uses a Wordpress-based CMS that's very easy to learn (I know because that's the service the student newspaper at my college uses.)

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Photography: Years ago, photojournalism required expensive 35 mm cameras, a darkroom and all the supplies that went with it. Of course, these days photography is nearly all digital, and the good news is that digital photography can be done very cheaply.

For example, many students have smartphones with built-in cameras, and with a little practice, smartphones can capture reasonably good pictures. Better yet, digital cameras have plunged in price in recent years, and these days a good one can be bought for $100 or less.

While there are lots of expensive photo editing programs out there (Adobe Photoshop comes to mind), there are plenty of free options as well. Picasa, which was created by the folks at Google, is a terrific program for cropping and tweaking photos so that they'll look great. And like many of the other programs discussed here, it's free!

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