“We just lost our friends.” Journalism at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School

You never know what’s going to happen next in journalism. It’s what makes the job both exciting and terrifying at the same time. A group of high school journalism students discovered this truism in a horrifying way when their seemingly regular day became global news.

David Beard at the Poynter Institute tracked down the staff of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School newspaper to find out how the shooting at their school shaped the paper’s approach to journalism. His introduction illustrates the normalcy of the day, right up to the point when everything changed:

Suzanna Barna was just shutting down her computer in journalism class, thinking about her too-long story on her high school’s internet filtering policy.

The school newspaper story was 1,600 words, and her workaround was to chop it into two 800-word segments.

A few desks over, Lewis Mizen had finished a draft of his op-ed on DACA and President Trump, and Kevin Trejos, behind the other two on his assignment, had just gone into the hall to refill his water bottle.

Then the alarm went off at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Barna, Mizen and Trejos haven’t touched those stories since.

Reading that put me in my own student newsroom: My editor harping on the kid who writes too long and refuses to cut his story. The opinion desk banging out a draft on a national topic that will have me asking, “OK, how does this impact readers here?” The “last call for water” kid, heading upstairs to the water bottle refilling station with everyone’s cup or bottle before security locks off that part of the building off for the night.

Normal day, normal problems. And then none of it was normal.

In the weeks since the shooting in February, the paper and the yearbook became engaged in a crowdfunding effort to help provide each student with copies of the publications as well as to augment them in the wake of the shooting. Allison Miller, a student media adviser from Texas, started this cause and has worked with the students in Florida and on behalf of them in these efforts.

“Journalism doesn’t take a break in the face of tragedy, so they have to carry on,” Miller said. “We decided to start this to help raise the funds for these students to pursue any avenue that they choose to pursue and to use their voices without the fear of the costs and the fear of the repercussions.”

Unfortunate and truer words could not be spoken. About a day after Beard published his piece on Stoneman Douglas,  a student at Great Mills High School in Maryland shot two classmates before he died of a gunshot wound.


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