High schools and colleges are no strangers to controversy, and, like the true journalists you are, when something major hits your community, you’re probably jumping at the chance to break the news. That’s a great attitude to have, but all too often something stands in the way; whether it’s a conservative or over-controlling administration, a too-timid staff, or just simply not knowing how to appropriately tackle a tough topic, it can almost be easier to shy away from covering those sensitive subjects. We encourage you to do the exact opposite––dive into the deep end, but do it with grace. And, if you’re not willing to take our word for it, you can hear from someone who’s experienced it first-hand. Kaylee Chamberlain, Web Editor-in-Chief of the St. Louis Park High School’s Echo here in Minnesota, was generous enough to provide some insight into the process she and her staff went through earlier this year while covering a local controversy. The Echo staff did a number of storiesconcerning a janitor working at St. Louis Park High School who was arrested for nonconsensual sexual misconduct. You can read all about how the Echo staff found solutions to some common concerns that come up when covering a sensitive subject below.
Did you have any meetings with the staff to discuss the process, or run into any trouble with administration?
KC: “Yes, we held meetings daily with both editors-in-chief, our adviser, the writer, content editor and anyone else helping to gather facts and information. We held conferences in which everyone, including people who had never seen the story before, read over the story, and we questioned every fact and made sure everything was as clear as possible. We have a very strong staff in that if any administration did try to cause trouble, it would be shut down almost immediately. We are very lucky to have an adviser that has instilled fear into the administration so they know to never try to censor us.”
Did you receive any feedback from the community––positive or negative––after the articles were published?
KC: “For all of our sexual misconduct stories published this fall we did not face much negative backlash. Many people had no idea what had been happening so it was primarily a thankful response because we were delivering the truth. Because we had made sure that everything we published could be supported by reasonable evidence, there wasn’t much anyone could do as far as a negative response.”
How would you encourages other programs in the SNO network to take some risks with their reporting, but do it smartly?
KC: “FACT CHECK. We are not here to start rumors, only to present people with the unbiased truth to the best of our ability. We had pages of supporting evidence, but once we weeded out anything that we could not fully support, that’s when we could begin to write. Another important thing is, if someone denies to comment, you can state that in the story. It is important to allow right of reply, but if the person has no comment, stating that is okay.
What I would say to any to other programs is, it’s okay to report on the controversial things. It’s a lot of work, but the passion that is unveiled in staffers is amazing. Our staff was so excited to feel that they could make a difference and to see how our jobs mattered. When you publish something you have put so much time into, you and your staff will be so proud.
Overall, this experience allowed our staff to grow and learn.”
A huge thanks to Kaylee and the entire Echo staff for sharing their experience with us. We hope they inspire you to go forth and take some risks. Just remember to stay smart, remain sensitive, and keep on doing what you do best: report the news.