NEW VOICES AT WORK — Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student journalists Rebecca Schneid, Emma Dowd and Dara Rosen at a special editorial planning meeting at The Guardian US. (Photo by Ali Smith for The Guardian, used with permission)

Daring to let teenagers take over the news

Aralynn A.A. McMane
Apr 5 · 5 min read

By Aralynn A.A. McMane

Right now, Frankfurter Neue Presse in Germany is letting secondary students take over an entire Saturday edition, and U.S. students are preparing a documentary that will be broadcast by Urbana, Illinois, public radio, as their predecessors have done since 1993.

News executives find giving young people a real voice in their established media a risky business, but organizations that dare to try it realize it is for their own good. In the best cases, editors are involved to both teach and learn.

“We definitely need them,” Kimberlie Kranich, Director of Education and Community Engagement at the radio station, WILL in Urbana, Illinois, told The Lenfest Institute. “We treat the students how we would any other person that wanted to get content on our air,” she said. “We don’t talk down to them. We talk to them as professionals. It’s a real conversation that you might have in a news meeting or in any other editorial meeting at the station.”

The coordinator at Frankfurter Neue Presse, Astrid Kopp, agrees that it’s important. “We do this because young people are our future as writers, as readers and as subjects of reporting,” she said. “Also most of my colleagues really like to work with pupils and students and we are proud of the editions produced in the past ten years.”

Some news organizations do even more. The Guardian US invited staff from The Eagle Eye student newsmagazine to direct its main, live coverage of the massive March for Our Lives demonstration for gun control in Washington, D.C., a month after 17 people died in a shooting attack at their school in Florida, Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School. By doing so, The Guardian US took practice of a news takeover by young people to new heights of both trust and impact. That joint action earned the news organization and its temporary student staff the first Global Youth & News Media Prize for news media initiatives that serve, support, attract and learn from young audiences.

The kind of takeover that The Guardian and Frankfurter Neue Presse offer, in which students create all the content for an entire edition, is one of the most complete forms of news media youth engagement.

The Frankfurter Neue Presse in Germany has made its takeover a yearly event since 2008, focusing on a different theme each year for the special edition, Junge Zeitung, that results. This year’s theme is “the good life.”

In addition to using the students’ reporting on its website and Twitter account, The Guardian US supported their commentary by publishing their “manifesto” in favor of gun control and explained to their readers why they had given over control of the demonstration coverage.

“These young journalists blew us away with their talent, their passion, and their ability to fight cynicism with hope,” said Jane Spencer, Guardian US deputy editor. “The project has inspired us to pursue new collaborations with young people, who look at the world’s challenges with fresh eyes.”

“There is a reciprocal relationship and professional journalists can mentor the next generation while the students help diversify the organization,” said The Eagle Eye faculty adviser Melissa Falkowski.

Student journalist Dara Rosen concurred: “The Eagle Eye got a lot out of our partnership. We got the experience of being in an editorial meeting with established journalists and we got to publish our work on a professional newspaper website. This partnership showed me how powerful the profession of journalism is and how important our words really are.”’

Oliver Laughland, a Guardian U.S. journalist closely tied to the project, noted the reaction from the public: “We’ve been overwhelmed with how well the project was received,” he said in a story about the partnership. “Our readers have told us how inspired they felt by the voices and journalism that came out of it.”

Takeovers come in many forms and when done well provide a hands-on way to teach about both the business and craft of news production while serving as a community engagement tool and acting as still another occasion to teach newsroom staff about young people.

Takeovers are not always about “youth” topics and, most importantly, a takeover uses the youth-created journalism as part of the normal day’s offer, not simply as adjunct content found only in a separate printed supplement or online space.

Here are just a few variations:

• The Norwegian daily Bergensavisen let three classrooms produce content for an entire edition to mark the 25th anniversary of United Nations Universal Children’s Day. Editor Anders Nyland said the impact was universal, on students, the public and especially his staff. “I’ve received only positive reactions,” he said. “I think [people are] proud that we had the guts to really do it, and I believe they’re surprised at the quality of the stories the kids wrote,” he added. “This is exactly what I hoped for. I wanted them to see that it’s possible to write highly relevant content even if you don’t approach the stories in the traditional journalistic way. Those who took an active part, visiting schools and completing the edition at the news desk, told me they had great fun. Last but not least, I wanted to motivate the staff to engage more with young readers.”

• The West Australian invited 12 students who had won a contest (writing commentary or drawing an editorial cartoon) to become guest editors for an edition, participating in every step of the process. “Be prepared to be surprised: The experience is just as enlightening for the newspaper staff as it is for the guest editors an edition, participating in every step of the process. “Be prepared to be surprised: The experience is just as enlightening for the newspaper staff as it is for the guest editors,” said Greta Ambrose of the news in education team that organized the activity. Assistant Editor Ben Martin agreed, “They were particularly interested in the ethics of news reporting and discussed in detail interaction with sources, the public and readers,” he said. “Some of the discussions and debates were quite forthright, with different points of view being expressed with candor.”

•In 150 schools around the United States, students regularly get the chance to create stories for broadcast on local public television stations through the Student Reporting Labs supported by PBS NewsHour, the nightly news program of the U.S. Public Broadcasting System. Participating teachers and students can use an innovative journalism and production curriculum (anyone can access a sample set). Local TV journalists and technicians get a Student Reporting Labs stipend to provide practical coaching. The resulting reports appear regularly locally and sometimes nationally on the PBS NewsHour itself

•A guide from the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) provides details of the Australian and German takeovers plus those by three other news publishers: L’Humanité (France), Oppland Arbeiderblad (Norway) and The Belfast Telegraph (Northern Ireland).

NOTE: All kinds of news media run by people of any age can enter the competition for the 2019 Global Youth & News Media Prize starting June 1 for two categories : The Journalism Award and the News/Media Literacy Award. Those awards will be presented at NewsXchange in Paris in November. The Planet Award category winner will be presented on 23 May at Eurasia Media Forum in Almaty. The author is co-director of the prize.

Aralynn A.A. McMane

Based in France, I love to encourage news media worldwide to better serve, support and engage young audiences.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade