My sophomore year, after taking Journalism I and Journalism II the year before, I joined the Arlingtonian as a staff writer. I felt intimidated at first, afraid of criticism against my stories, on getting any details, no matter how minor, wrong, interviewing strangers. But as Lady Bird Johnson, the former First Lady of the United States, once said, “The way you overcome shyness is to become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid.” That year I went on to write two of the nine spotlights published in the Arlingtonian, and was named its “Staff Member of the Year.”
The year after, my junior year, I became the Arlingtonian’s copy editor, and, at the time, was the youngest member of the top tree editors. As copy editor, my first step was that each time I edited a staff member’s story I would sit down with them individually and work through each of my suggestions. The year before, I had only received marked-up papers but did not have too much guidance through what each edit meant, and I wanted to make sure each staff member not only recognized the edits, but understood why they were made. Halfway through the year, our managing editor left, and another junior, Sophie Yang, became the copy editor and I assumed the managing editor role. , became copy editor and I assumed the managing editor role. That year Sophie and I went on to win the Marty award for our reporting on the effects of stress on academic honesty at our high school.
The staff also took a little detour from Columbus, Ohio and went to Chicago for the national JEA convention for high school student journalists. Here they are exploring typewriters at the American Writers’ Museum.
As student journalists, we hold power in how a story will be interpreted by the student body at large. In the last three years, two particular incidents, one quite recent, drew the attention of the community and it was us who had the ability, at least within our own school, to guide the narratives that would be portrayed, one-sided or nuanced and understanding. The first was during my sophomore year in which a student was suspended after some of his peers accused him of planning a school shooting. Sophie and I covered this story and it was not easy, we too were filled with doubt: Are the accusation true? Would this student do something like this? Are we safe? Yet our larger responsibility was anchored in our purpose to pursue the facts, not be led by rumors. We called the student at the center of all of these allegations, and just as we presented the story of those who first raised concerns about him, we were also to present his side of the story. The students who brought the concerns to the school said they did not act out of animosity but rather worry for the safety of students at the school. The student suspended said he understood why they made the allegations, but also said he felt sidelined, and all he wanted was to come back to school and be with his friends (in the end, both the school and the police cleared the student of any wrongdoing). The stories that at first seem so clear-cut are often those with most nuance.
Then, just a few weeks ago, a video of two students from my school fighting, many bystanders watching, went viral, passing from one group chat to the next. Rumors were flying around, not just within the walls of our school, but the whole community. “It was ten students fighting kid,” “No, actually it was twenty,” “One of the kids in the video later got into an altercation with a police officer,” “The kid in the video shown beat up was in the ICU and was a Chinese exchange student” were just among the few of the many rumors spreading around. Sophie and I in a matter of days talked to the police, students related to the incident, and the administration and were able to dispel all of those rumors. Our story became the sixth most viewed story on our website, and was widely shared throughout the community. In the end, above anything else, that is our role as student journalists to uncover truth when no one else is, and show the story behind the story, the lives behind them, the consequences rumors can have if not checked.
Writing for the Arlingtonian has been both the toughest and the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. Everyone loves it when the stories praise them, but no one likes it when you ask questions no one wants to answer. I have been screamed at, twice, and been criticized often by peers, either for my own stories or the content of the publication at large. Though this may sound strange, that is when you know that you are doing a good job, because the journalist’s role is not to exalt but to examine, and people often don’t want that. So, I hope as you look through my stories, and those I’ve written with other staff members, that you realize the time and dedication that goes into each one of them, that you gain a deeper appreciation for the journalist’s role not only in society, but in schools too. Journalism needs to exist at every level, from school to local to national. As the trailblazing journalist Ida B. Wells once said “The people must know before they can act, and there is no educator to compare with the press.”