5 Times Student Newspapers Broke Big Stories
Anyone who is curious to see what the future of journalism holds should pick up a student-run newspaper. In between the new teacher profiles and sports highlights, they may find hard-hitting stories that rival reporting done for award-winning national outlets. Here are five examples of articles written by high school and college students that led to real-world results.
1. NEW PRINCIPAL’S BACKGROUND CALLED INTO QUESTION
Maddie Baden, a junior at Pittsburg High School in Pittsburg, Kansas and co-editor of the school's newspaper, didn’t intend to break a major news story. When it was announced on March 6 that Amy Robertson had been hired as the school’s new principal, Baden volunteered to write a profile on her. But what should have been a straightforward piece quickly morphed into an in-depth investigation of Robertson’s credentials, according to The New York Times.
The real reporting began when basic details Robertson gave in her interview didn’t check out. Corllins University, the institution from which Robertson claimed to have earned her master’s and doctorate degrees, lists no physical address on its website. Further research revealed that Corllins is an online university that’s been accused of not offering proper accreditation to its students. Baden, along with other student staff members at The Booster Redux, published the front-page story titled "District Hires New Principal: Background called into question after discrepancies arise" on March 31. By April 4, Robertson had resigned "in light of the issues that arose," according to a board statement. For their part in uncovering the truth, the kids made headlines of their own.
2. SECRET CAMERAS INSTALLED THROUGHOUT SCHOOL
In December 2007, students at Massachusetts's Newton South High School were unsettled to read that hidden cameras had been installed around their halls in secret. Teachers on the school committee, who first learned of the cameras in the school newspaper, were equally surprised.
Juniors Jason Kuo and Nathan Yeo broke the story in the Denebola, their student newspaper, months after the security cameras were put in place. They didn’t share how they got the scoop, but they did make sure to include a quote from the superintendent confirming the presence of cameras before sending the story to print. The cameras hadn’t been activated yet by the time the news broke. Nonetheless, members of both the school staff and student body felt they should have been notified before the new security measures were enacted. The superintendent heard their concerns and promised to be more upfront about the system moving forward.
3. GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY MISREPRESENTS ADMISSIONS POLICY
When it was revealed in 2013 that George Washington University had been dishonest about their admissions policy, the story made national news. But the facts first came to light in the campus newspaper. The staff at The GW Hatchet saw their opportunity to break the story following an administration switch-up at the admissions and financial aid offices. During an interview, then-assistant news editor Jeremy Diamond asked Laurie Koehler, the school’s new associate provost for enrollment management, how GW was able to follow a need-blind acceptance policy with its relatively small endowment. Koehler gave an answer that conflicted with statements made by her predecessors, which opened the door for students to further investigate the scandal. The final story reported that financial need had always played a bigger role in the admissions process than the school let on. Koehler responded by saying that the administration would work harder to "increase the transparency" in the future.
4. YOUNG IMMIGRANT DIES ... INDENTURED SERVITUDE TO BLAME
News reports of a tragic death led to the uncovering of a human trafficking operation when Berkeley High School students took a closer look at the story. In November 1999, a teen girl died from carbon monoxide poisoning in a Berkeley, California apartment. The death was initially ruled an accident, but high school student Megan Greenwell suspected there was more to the story. "Every other Bay Area newspaper just had the story of the tragic death, but we were finding out [the victim] wasn't even going to school and she was 17," Greenwell told The San Francisco Examiner. "That made me think there was something bigger."
Greenwell and her news editor at The Jacket, Iliana Montauk, began interviewing students and teachers with connections to people involved in the incident. They gathered accounts of human trafficking taking place in the apartment where the girl had died and other apartments owned by the same local landlord. On December 10 of that year, they published an article under headline "Young Indian Immigrant Dies in Berkeley Apartment," with the subhead, "South Asian Community Says 'Indentured Servitude' May Be to Blame." A month after the story broke, the landlord was charged with smuggling young girls into the country from India.
5. SCHOOL BOARD HOLDS ILLEGAL MEETING BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
Palo Alto High School’s newspaper The Campanile owes one of the biggest scoops in its history to an anonymous tipster. After a meeting took place between school board members in 1996, the minutes from the session found their way into the mailbox of Esther Wojcicki, a journalism teacher at the school and its newspaper's adviser. The notes revealed that the board had moved to give one administrator a $9000 raise and promotion behind closed doors. From there the student journalists dug into the story, learning that the school board’s activity may have been illegal. According to the Brown Act, all public agencies in California must conduct business in public unless they’re dealing with personnel matters. By deciding the promotion in private, The Campanile suggested that the board had possibly violated that law. Once the job opening was made known to the public, Palo Alto High School administrators redid the meeting in an open forum.