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Student news media fulfill growing need:
covering local news no one else does

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by Cyndi Hyatt

Student newspapers – the new papers of record?

Nearly 350 teachers wearing white T-shirts, chanting slogans and holding signs calling for a fair contract lined the front of the high school before the September school board meeting. Philadelphia’s television news vans were there: Action News, Fox 29, CBS 10.

And so was the local paper, the school newspaper, the only print media present.

As local and regional newspaper circulation continues to decline, there is less and less local coverage for more and more communities. Residents of areas without the local paper sometimes have to look long and hard to read about what’s happening in their own backyards leaving them in the dark about most community matters including politics, policies and police activity. 

Because of this lack of local press, student journalism is now more important than ever. While the regional TV stations may air a 15-second voiceover on the nightly news about a local happening, the school newspaper can tell the full story and often is the only media outlet doing so. The school newspaper has become the paper of record for many areas.

Good student newspapers are authoritative and cover the local community unlike other media. Because of protected speech, they can be editorially independent.  The result is fair and balanced reporting with high standards for news gathering and writing, paying close attention to accuracy in detail and fact-checking.

The paper and its online presence are publicly available not only to the immediate school but through distribution to local merchants and public buildings, like libraries and municipal offices.

That night of the school board meeting, four student journalists covered the event, arriving at 6 p.m. and staying until the meeting adjourned at 9 p.m. They shot video and stills. They interviewed parents, teachers and students. They listened, recorded and took notes. They were present to document the entire event.

The week prior and the week after the meeting they contacted school board members and union representatives, reached out to attorneys representing each side, researched past contract negotiations, learned about process, past and present.

The result was an informative and timely news story that objectively told both sides – a story that informs the community, both the school and municipal stakeholders, what is happening in their local school district.

Student journalists’ news media matter. They mean more than ever to their school and surrounding neighborhoods because oftentimes they are the only voice of authentic and honest local news coverage.

They have become the paper of record.

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