260,000. That’s how many views a story on the Manual RedEye, the student news publication for duPont Manual High School in Louisville, Kentucky, has garnered since it was published on Oct. 30. The story has, as today’s teens would say, gone viral.
The article broke the news about a training slideshow used by the Kentucky State Police (KSP) that quoted Adolf Hitler and urged cadets to be “ruthless killer[s],” scooping national outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and more.
It was written by brothers Satchel and Cooper Walton, a junior and a freshman at duPont Manual, respectively, and both part of the school’s Journalism & Communication magnet.
Their father’s colleague, a lawyer at the firm Adam Landenwich Walton, first came across the slideshow as part of the discovery process in a different police shooting case in Eastern Kentucky. Shortly after, the family’s group chat blew up.
“[Our dad] texted screenshots of this to our family group chat and I said ‘Oh my God. You’re sending this to someone, right? That’s a big deal,’” Satchel Walton said.
Satchel is the first to admit that the circumstances under which they received the information were lucky, but after another outlet that was privy to the slideshow failed to jump on it, the brothers decided to take the investigation into their own hands.
While some of the initial information came from the father, the boys carried out the rest of the work entirely on their own. After approximately two weeks of conducting research, interviewing knowledgeable sources, and following up on (still) unanswered open-records requests, they took the story to the editor and adviser of the Manual RedEye for publication.
The rest is history.
Since its publication, the story has prompted public outrage from locals all the way up to prominent political figures such as Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear and Rep. John Yarmuth who represents Kentucky’s 3rd District.
The fact that the training materials have come to light in the midst of a national discussion on systemic racism and police brutality, especially in the same state where the Louisville Metro Police Department shot and killed Breonna Taylor in March, only makes them all the more worthy of coverage – something Satchel and Cooper acutely understood.
“I knew lots of people locally would care about it since there have been months of protests in Louisville over the killing of Breonna Taylor and over other police misconduct cases,” Satchel Walton said. “I didn’t necessarily anticipate much of a national or even international audience it would reach and that it would bring about a direct and knowable change.”
That direct change refers to the resignation of Rodney Brewer, a 33-year-veteran of KSP and the longest-serving commissioner in the organization’s history. Brewer held the commissioner role at the same time that the KSP training slideshow was used, something the brothers have also reported on.
Although other news outlets have recently started to track the same coverage, Satchel said he takes pride in the fact that “no one’s really adding much to the story,” proving that it was well-researched in the first place and that student journalists should not be underestimated.
“I’ve been trying to think of a way to formulate this without having it sound like a platitude, which I haven’t really been able to come up with yet, but it’s that even student journalism can make a difference,” Satchel Walton said. “It can have a palpable impact on the world, it can be important, it can increase people’s knowledge, and it can really shake things up.”
James Miller, the adviser of the Manual RedEye, agrees.
“People think of student journalism as somehow amateurish or less respectable than professional journalism, but as the Walton brothers and Manual RedEye have demonstrated, student journalism is real journalism and has the potential to make a real impact on the world around us.
Reporting on your school’s sports scores, prom dates and dress code changes is important — but student journalists should also aim higher. Attend school board meetings, request public records, ask elected officials for interviews. I’m very proud of both the Walton brothers and the Manual RedEye staff for this bombshell scoop,” Miller said.