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When students decide what’s newsworthy

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by Susan McNulty, CJE The Stampede and The Hoofbeat adviser J.W. Mitchell High School, Trinity, Florida

Yesterday, my newspaper staff distributed the February issue of The Hoofbeat to the 2000+ students at our school.

According to the staff, the issue was well received by the student body, based on the most reliable measure of teenage interest: mentions in classmates’ Snapchat stories.

The staff packed the issue with stories geared to today’s teens: advice on dating, ways to talk to a crush, tips for being single and pick-up lines. In addition to the Valentine’s Day themed stories they included hard news about our new bus loop, the HOSA and band accomplishments, electives available on campus, sports teams, fundraisers, and ways to avoid student loan debt.

In addition to the Valentine’s Day themed stories they included hard news about our new bus loop, the HOSA and band accomplishments, electives available on campus, sports teams, fundraisers, and ways to avoid student loan debt.

Two stories in particular drew the audience’s attention. The first told the story of Valentine’s Day fails. The writer interviewed a current student who shared a story from middle school when she caught her boyfriend cheating on her with another guy.

Readers reacted with criticism that the writer would “out” another student. The author of the piece made the decision to include the story because both guys remained anonymous, and neither currently attend our school.

The second story that provoked a strong reaction from readers dealt with the legalization of marijuana. Students appreciated that the piece used primary sources. The piece appeared on the op/ed page, and a student was quoted by name.

The author also interviewed our School Resource Officer, a deputy sheriff in our county. Our newspaper is a public forum, and our administration does not require prior review. The principal remains a steadfast supporter of student journalism at our school and she has not expressed any concerns about either story. 

The second story that provoked a strong reaction from readers dealt with the legalization of marijuana. Students appreciated that the piece used primary sources. The piece appeared on the op/ed page, and a student was quoted by name.

When the staff discusses story ideas for their next issue I stay as silent as possible, allowing them to decide what their readers want to read and what they want to write. However, at the beginning of each year, I teach lessons in newsworthiness and news judgement so that students have the necessary background knowledge of journalistic objectivity and integrity when making content decisions.

More often than not, I notice students will self-censor their ideas they feel might become controversial. This, too, becomes a chance to educate future journalists about taking chances and bringing about change.

The JEA curriculum offers multiple lesson plans for members on news judgement, pitch meetings, journalistic research and more.

Link to lessons mentioned:

Link to The Hoofbeat: https://issuu.com/mustangpress/docs/the_hoofbeat_vol._18_issue_4

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