The use of online technology, Photoshop techniques and online journalism ethics were the focus of the annual Iowa High School Press Association (IHSPA) Winter Thaw retreat at Grand View University in Des Moines Feb. 14.

Professional speakers included Randy Brubaker, managing editor of The Des Moines Register, Josh Ryther, assistant professor of art and design at Grand View University, and Dick Johns from The University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Brubaker kicked-off the event with ways high school publications could do more with online journalism and how The Register might be able to help.

“‘I wish convergence was here’ is not a phrase used in the industry now,” Brubaker said. “Stop using convergence as a term that is coming; it’s here.”

Each February, IHSPA advisers, consisting mostly of high school journalism teachers, gather at the Winter Thaw to discuss professional development and the state of high school journalism.

IHSPA Executive Director David Schwartz, the J-MC School, organized this year’s Thaw in an effort to address the push toward online journalism and the skills necessary for today’s high school journalists.

“The Thaw helps journalism teachers achieve professional development and training that they can take back to their classroom to maintain high standards of scholastic journalism,” Schwartz said.

Brubaker stressed the importance of familiarizing students with a variety of media tools early and said schools that accomplish this would produce budding professionals. He made the point that while most traditional reporters don’t know how to shoot video or set up links online, they will need to be comfortable with these skills in the future.

“Clearly newspapers are changing and how we deliver the news is changing,” Brubaker said. “Our goal is to give the information they [readers] want, when they want it, where they want it.”

In an effort to make the jump to the Web easier for high schools, he suggested The Register host online portions of school newspapers and the possibility of students assisting in The Register’s high school sports coverage.

To compliment Brubaker’s convergence presentation, Ryther’s Photoshop tutorial focused on a need to keep high school teachers in tune with the technology curve. As technology continues to move forward at breakneck speed, high schools, especially smaller ones, sometimes have trouble keeping up.

“I believe what will do more good is to teach them [students] how to teach themselves,” Ryther said.

To Ryther, understanding how to utilize tools such as Adobe Photoshop, InDesign, or Bridge is not nearly as important as creativity.

“Anybody can run a computer,” Ryther said. “But creativity makes the difference.”

Ryther believes these systems will become so easy in the future that anyone will be able to use them. Thus, those that have the ability to think creatively will be the ones that excel.

After demonstrating how to create a droplet (an action that allows the user to quickly repeat tedious executions) and customize a workspace (particularly important for yearbook and newspaper staffs), Ryther discussed ways that schools could inexpensively keep up with the technology curve.

Ryther’s suggestion: get programs early since upgrades are cheaper than completely new systems and give the students online resources where they can learn about the upgrades themselves.

“Resources to teach themselves is the greatest thing you can give them,” Ryther said.

An ethics presentation by Johns brought the Winter Thaw full circle. He focused mainly on the application of traditional journalism ethics to online reporting and networking.

Johns put particular emphasis on the use of social networks, like MySpace, Twitter and Facebook, as reporting sources.

“Social networks are ubiquitous enough that journalists who insist on avoiding them are likely to miss good opportunities and great stories,” Johns said. “To that end … Information gathered online should be independently confirmed offline and [reporters should] be transparent with the audience as well as sources.”

Advisers were reminded of the need to separate the personal from the professional on Web sites and social networks. Johns told the group how privacy settings on social networks can be used to limit access to private information.

“Don’t post information that could embarrass you or your newsroom,” Johns said. “Recognize that your actions can [be] misinterpreted … always take the high road.”