Student Journalism: Why does it matter?

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Student Journalism: Why does it matter?

Ben Jackson

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On the first day of school, I walked into 5th period journalism with an uninformed impression. I believed that school journalism was just a place for young liberals to feel good about themselves by “making a difference”, despite a lack of readers and/or people that care about the school paper at all. I joined journalism because I wanted to write album reviews. I couldn’t care less about starting a movement or changing society for the better, any of that “you-can-change-the-world” PBS Kids crap. And why should I? Everyone knows that all student journalism is poorly written and naive, and that the opinions of kids are far inferior to those of adults.

Turns out, I was the one that was naive.

Since joining journalism, I’ve come across several well-written, coherent and sophisticated articles written by teenagers from our own Timpview High school. Articles that push for change and raise awareness about our immediate society’s flaws– and its assets. Articles that you’d never be able to find anywhere else in the world, articles that apply to us specifically.

So why wasn’t I able to see this side of student journalism? Well, you might find it interesting to know that, until a month ago, I had never actually–ahem–read the school paper. (Funny that I would assume something so bold and not have the nerve to find out if what I believe was actually valid.) It was like I had an Uno reverse card thrown down on me. The mindset I once had was completely flip-flopped, and now I’m able to see the side of student journalism that I had ignored for so long. Despite what you or I may think, student journalism can (though I cringe while saying this) change the world.

As I just explained, there’s a huge problem with the state of student journalism: it’s often neglected or written off as unimportant. Name one time in history when the opinions and voices of kids were regarded as just as valid as those of adults. The 1950’s? Heck no. 18th century Europe? Don’t make me laugh. Ancient Egypt? A kid would be flayed to death for opening their mouth at the dinner table.

There’s never been a better time for teens to voice their opinions. Modern society has changed so it’s acceptable for teenagers to speak their minds without being completely disregarded or punished. So where does student journalism fit into all of this?

In short, it’s our tool. It’s a place where teens can give their opinion to all who will listen- it’s our chance to bring about change.

On the topic of change, I’d like to direct your attention to the student journalists of Herriman High School. Back in January, the Herriman Telegraph published an article explaining a few students’ investigation of a mysterious firing of a teacher. The young journalists were ruthless, investigating other students, members of the administration, and even contacting Jordan school district. What they found at the end of the investigation was despicable: the teacher that had been forced to resign had previously been fired from another school for engaging in sexual misconduct with students, and Herriman high´s administration knew about it.

Because of the admirable work of these few brave student journalists, it was looking as if justice had finally been bestowed upon Herriman high. However, the article was quickly taken down by the administration in an act of complete constitutional disregard. The students were furious. So much so that they seceded from the official high school paper to form their own: The Herriman Telegram. On the Telegram’s front page in big, glorious letters it boldly states: “Student Run. No Censorship.” And to top it off, their story has been promoted by the New York Times, NPR,  the Washington Post, NBC, the Salt Lake Tribune, and other local news outlets.

This Herriman story is solid proof that student journalists have an influence beyond themselves, their own schools, and even their own communities. The honest reporting by these students brought about awareness to a problem that those very same students should have been protected from.

I would implore you to ask yourself: When no one will protect us, will we cower in the face of authority, letting injustice brew right in front of our faces? Or will we, as the Beastie Boys would say, fight for our rights?

Purging injustice in a self-righteous act of heroism is cool and all, but that’s not the only thing the school paper is for. Student journalism isn’t just for exposing the flaws in our society; in fact, it’s more frequently used to raise awareness of the experiences of the students around us.

Student journalism keeps us students connected. I personally know that it’s hard to break away from your personal view of the world- most of us don’t consider the fact that other Timpview students’ lives are drastically different from ours. Last year, two Timpview journalists–Carter Norton and Candace Brown–published an article telling the stories of four first generation hispanic immigrants- all of whom were Timpview students. These are kids that I had passed in the hall, never suspecting that their lives were so crazily different from (and in many ways similar to) mine. These students had experienced real gang violence. One of the students, on top of school, worked a full-time job to provide for their family. It made me start to wonder if I’d been living in Plato’s cave my whole life, and only now am I beginning to emerge from the darkness of ignorance.

My scope of reality has been greatly broadened through learning about these students’ experiences. I’ve started to look at people differently, with more compassion. Student journalism has helped me obtain a greater understanding not just of other Timpview students, but of all people.

Now, you may be asking yourself, so what’s the problem? If student journalism is so earth-shakingly influential and life changing, why don’t we live in Disney World where everyone sings Kumbaya and embraces each others’ differences while making friendship bracelets and knitting sweaters for each other?

That’s a very good question, my friend, and the answer probably won’t shock you.

Nobody reads the school paper!

Just like everyone else, I used to be part of the problem.

My intention when writing this article was to raise awareness of the importance of student journalism. Only now have I realized that this article is a paradox.

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it really make a sound?

If an article is published in the school paper and nobody reads it, will it ever make a difference?

The answer to the latter question is an indisputable no. Yeah, student journalism may have the potential to change the world, but it’s profoundly slept on. I don’t know a single soul outside of the Journalism team that reads the school paper. I even know a couple kids who didn’t even know we had a school paper. The problem is that nobody cares, and that’s a social mentality.

I feel like I’m screaming in outer space. Is anybody going to hear me? Probably not. Am I going to give up? No. Why? Because I have faith in student journalism. I have faith that the school paper can help us as a student body become more connected, more accepting, and more loving of each other. I know what I’m saying is cheesy, but frankly, it’s what we need at Timpview right now. It’s impossible for such a diverse student body to become united if we can’t empathize with one another, and what better way to do that than through the school paper? If this is just a cry on deaf ears so be it, but to whomever may be listening please remember this: If we really do care about making Timpview a better place, I believe there’s no better place to start than the Thunderbolt. FUBU.