Thursday, July 20, 2017

Student journalists faced local backlash after story revealed disqualifying facts about new principal

Investigative reporters often receive public acclaim, but community journalists may face an unsupportive community that feels embarrassed about misdeeds they uncover. That applies to student journalists, as the story of The Booster Redux, the student newspaper at Pittsburg High School in southeast Kansas, illustrates.

The paper made national headlines in April when it reported that the school's new principal wasn't licensed and it couldn't find any evidence that her purported alma mater existed. The students worried about backlash from the start, but adviser Emily Smith said that she told them they didn't have to publish the story if they were too uncomfortable with that, Dylan Lysen reports for The Mercury in Manhattan, Kan.

Speaking at at a recent high-school journalism workshop at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Smith said she told the students, "This is probably going to be the hardest thing you do in your life because you’re doing the right thing and it’s not always easy and it’s not always popular."

And so it went. “I would say some people were really supportive, and they think it was great and they support the kids,” Smith said. “Most people were really mad because they said we made everyone look really bad.”

Some backlash was more subtle. Though the school board fired the principal and thanked the students for uncovering the story, the school district's press release about the matter mentioned neither the national coverage the story had attracted or the fact that the students were invited to the White House Correspondents Dinner. "That sent a huge message to the teachers and the community that they did not support us,” Smith said. "It’s really weird, because we didn’t even want to go out in public because people were mad at us, and they still are."

Smith said there are still unanswered questions about the principal's hire, since other news media have lost interest, but she isn't encouraging her students to pursue them. "We could have gone after that angle, but I really don’t feel like it’s my kids’ place to go find personal dirt,” she told Lysen. "To me it’s going to look like a vendetta."

No comments: