Student Journalists Take to Social Media, Covering Walkouts Nationwide

By Sarah Schwartz — March 14, 2018 3 min read
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By guest blogger Sarah Schwartz

As students walked out of class today to protest gun violence, reporters followed, documenting the rallies, marches, and ceremonies of remembrance for audiences across the country. Among their ranks: student journalists, reporting on the events in their own communities and interviewing their peers about gun violence in schools.

“We think it’s really important that we are the eyes and ears and connection for our community to know what’s going on, and get a strong sense of student voice,” said Abbey Cadieux, a senior, and one of the co-editors-in-chief Grosse Pointe North High School’s newspaper, the North Pointe, in Michigan.

In covering the day’s events, student journalists turned to the platform they knew would have the broadest reach: social media.

At Grosse Pointe North, editors assigned individual student reporters to cover the events on the paper’s Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat feeds. North Pointe staff shot video interviews with students, live-streamed the walkout, and posted photo and text updates in their social media channels. This morning, they also released a special print issue about students’ wide-ranging perspectives on the walkout, gun-control legislation, and school safety measures.

Centering student voice is a priority for the North Pointe whenever the paper is reporting on issues with national political significance, said Alex Harring, a senior, and the paper’s managing editor. When the paper covered the presidential election last year, he said, editors focused on students’ perspectives on the candidates and political activism. Harring and Lindsey Ramsdell, also a senior and the paper’s co-editor-in-chief, put together a full-page spread exploring students’ motivations for rallying, interviewing young people who had attended a Bernie Sanders speech, or the Women’s March.

“We always try to cover it more from a news-analysis standpoint,” said Harring. “How do students feel about this, and why do they feel the way they do?”

Student opinions on the walkout were all over the map at Grosse Pointe North: Some students participated, while others—who don’t support stricter gun-control regulations, or didn’t want to align themselves with what they saw as a political movement—decided to stay in class. Still others felt the walkout didn’t go far enough. The North Pointe editorial board published an editorial direct to Twitter on Monday, criticizing the “district orchestrated” protest that they said downplayed the national walkout’s stated purpose: to lobby Congress for gun reform legislation.

Given the diversity of student viewpoints and the politically charged atmosphere, it was especially important to the editors that their reporters maintain a high standard of objectivity in their coverage. “We made it really clear that they’re not participating in the event; they’re reporting on it,” said Cadieux.

The Student Press Law Center, a nonprofit organization that provides legal assistance to high school and college journalists, echoes this advice. In their guide for covering walkouts, they caution student reporters to “remember your role as a journalist.” Student reporters are there to witness and document, not to take part in the protest.

Even though student journalists may not technically be participants in walkouts and other demonstrations, they can still be disciplined for attending. The North Pointe editors said that their administration has historically been supportive of their editorial freedom, but other school districts can punish students—including student journalists—who participate in speech that seriously disrupts normal school activities. A walkout that interrupts class time could fit that description, the SPLC writes.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.