Alexandra Riggs: Adversity challenges truth-seeking young journalists. Still, they persist

There’s just one laptop for the 12 of us running the 2016 version of Adobe. We have no printer, no cameras, budget or classroom. Hell, we don’t even have a full-time adviser.

But we persevere in making Northcoast Preparatory Academy’s (NPA) Heron Herald, a student-run and written newspaper, because it’s more important to us than the challenges that we are presented with.

We persevere because others cannot. The Student Press Law Center (SPLC) reports that a third of journalism students and teachers nationwide experience administrative censorship.

The priority for the Heron Herald’s staff has always been one of ethical reporting, news by and for peers, and civil engagement. The limitations surrounding our newspaper program have made difficult many objectives, but have made our journalistic integrity and resourcefulness all the stronger. These values are, at the core, what journalism is all about. In the wise words of Former TIME Magazine Editor Henry Anatole Grunwald, “journalism can never be silent.” 

It can be easy for young reporters to fall into the trap of lazy journalism, whether that be fake news, clickbait or other unethical reporting. What is more difficult is to hunt down and investigate stories of importance and complexity. Many young journalists struggle with trying conditions, but we have the knowledge that we can’t take anything for granted. 

This critical thinking can lead students to develop strong journalistic questioning and investigative skills. Since becoming a student journalist and editor for the Heron Herald, I have found myself evaluating every piece of information I hear with the same critical ear. I am always skeptical, but curious.

Thinking back, I can remember times of teamwork and collaboration in the face of challenges. As previously mentioned, the Heron Herald’s layout editing resources consist of a laptop, outdated Adobe InDesign software, and our layout editor, Zoe Osborn. I say this not to gain sympathy or pity, but to provide context. During the layout process of the most recent Heron Herald edition, Osborn was busy at work and nearly seven pages into her eight-page endeavor when Adobe InDesign crashed. She opened the software again. To her dismay and shock, all of her work beyond page two was gone; completely blank. Zoe lost time and energy into the void of outdated software. Because of this experience, Zoe was able to improve on her own work and learn better how to navigate outdated and cumbersome software. 

And when we needed a photo for a police reform story, I drove to the station. We called the front desk and were met with Seargent Phinney, a local police officer. After taking his picture, my peer and I decided that another interview couldn’t hurt, so we interviewed Sgt. Phinney. Our interview and photos provided more context and meaning to the article, which landed it on the front page of the Heron Herald. By our resourceful thinking and investigative nature, my peer and I had taken the opportunity presented to us by our unpreparedness to strengthen the article and the newspaper, in turn. It is times like these that I am grateful for our journalistic curiosity and unique set of circumstances. 

NPA is lucky enough to have First Amendment freedoms and not to be in the third of schools that censor students. Unlike the many young reporters who face the adversity of censorship, Heron Herald staff is able to pride itself on writing about what we feel is important, even if these topics are difficult or taboo. 

Pieces like our Pregnancy Options article, where we compared the services offered by faith-based organizations with unaffiliated ones such as Planned Parenthood. This article provided readers with information about each organization without glorifying or villainizing either. 

Though seemingly simple, one has to understand that many schools around the country don’t have the liberty to write or publish just any material. New Voices is a student-powered grassroots movement to protect student press freedoms by means of legislation. New Voices has been introduced into 14 states, including my home California. But 36 states are still without these protections for student journalists, leaving them vulnerable to censorship of many kinds. These freedoms are essential in a society that will be inherited by young people. 

With one laptop, an hour per week, outdated software, and a staff of a dozen, the Heron Herald is just one example of the countless inspiring student publications that make news accessible to young people and allow teenagers to develop a deep love and value for reporting. And after all, journalism can never be silent.

Alexandra Riggs is an editor and staff writer at the Heron Herald.



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