Student reporters shape their school's stories; here's why school newspapers are important

Iris Lee

As a reporter, you have the power to shape the ideas and opinions of your readers. So how can you make sure you use that power responsibly?

Iris Lee |

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The sports team was victorious, the talent show was full of wonderful acts, the school lunch is healthy and nutritious …

No one wants to read a school newspaper that only tells half the story.

What makes student-run newspapers special is that they aren’t controlled by the school administration. This gives students the freedom to share ideas with one another.

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However, any newspaper can fall prey to lazy reporting – or worse, become a public relations (PR) tool. So how can a school newspaper stay relevant? I asked Young Post editor Susan Ramsay, special projects editor Jamie Lam, and student newspaper editors Yanis Lai and Serena Tam for their thoughts.

Their first piece of advice: a newspaper must cater solely to its readers.

“In any newspaper, you want to serve your reader,” said Ramsay. “Otherwise, it’s PR.”

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It’s important to consider students’ interests when choosing content. Sixteen-year-old Yanis, editor of Ying Wa College’s newspaper Torch, conducts regular surveys to find out students’ opinions on different topics. This also gives students the chance to voice any issues they may have.

Serena, 18, the editor of Hong Kong International School’s newspaper Junto, noted: “The most popular Junto articles have been the ones related to issues that may have otherwise been watered down by the school admin or student government.”

Of course, not all student content needs to be serious. Lam advised against too much academic-related content.

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“When I was a teacher, everything was exams, exams, exams,” he said. Student papers should help dispel the idea that school life revolves around grades, and instead give students a much-needed break.

Of course, any topics which newspapers do cover should be well-researched. “Most people just ask their friends for quotes or facts, and rarely do they get the complete story or at least multiple sides of the story,” said Serena. Email interviews won’t cut it; for an accurate and engaging story, it’s essential to collect information first-hand.

Yanis used a recent basketball match at Ying Wa College as an example of good reporting.

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“Our reporters did an interview with the teachers, coaches, and the players. We also asked students for their opinion of the event.”

Lam also noted the importance of visuals. Taking a good photo is a large part of telling the story: “The words can be fixed later, but without a picture, the moment is gone.”

Another key element in news reporting is speed. If the reporters at Young Post ask Ramsay when she would like an article by, they can expect a one-word answer: “yesterday.” One trick Yanis uses is to set the deadlines earlier than needed. That way, even if reporters ask for extensions, she will still receive the work on time.

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The last piece of advice for student reporters? Never forget your role as a student advocate; it isn’t worth shaming or offending another student for the sake of an eye-catching story.

“Don’t print stuff that you’re not sure about,” said Lam. “Verify that it’s true, and don’t hurt anybody.”

Instead, use your power to give a voice to those who are under-represented. Ramsay shared a story from her own school days of a student who was bullied because she had psoriasis (a skin condition).

“Imagine what would have happened if the student newspaper had interviewed her, got her side of the story, and published information about psoriasis,” she said.

Making people rethink old perceptions is the true power every student journalist holds. We must wield it wisely.

Edited by Charlotte Ames-Ettridge