Creating a newswire for high school student reporting

A multidisciplinary team from NYC Media Lab’s “Tech, Media & Democracy” class is amplifying student voices

Inside a press pen: Reporters covering a march in NYC February 2017. Photo by Jessica Brockington

After the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, student activism has exploded around gun control legislation in the United States. Mainstream news outlets are covering the story extensively as students mobilize across the country. What the country has not seen elevated in equal force is the student journalism on this vital topic.

We’re building a wire service for high school student journalism to address this, to find ways to get students paid for their work, and to give students who are being censored an opportunity to work with professional journalists to publish their stories.

We’re testing our idea on reddit first as a thread in the subreddit student_walkout.

What’s in a name? Help us name the newswire

Students are hyperlocal reporters. When a hyperlocal reporter covers an event, everyone in the room reads the story to see if they are mentioned and if they agree with the reporter. They are fact-checked immediately by their communities.

“They live and breathe together,” observed Doug Rushkoff, using the Latin roots of the word “conspire.” Doug is a writer, documentarian and Professor of Media Theory and Digital Economics at CUNY/Queens. “They conspire. You should name the newswire that.” We did.

#Conspire was our starting point. We have received strong feedback, however, and invite you to submit yours.

What would you call this newswire? Join our Facebook group to share your ideas.

Framing the narrative

High school journalists aren’t writing for the wealthy adult subscriber on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, as the New York Times does. Student reporters craft stories that are important to other students. They ask different questions than professional reporters because they know what questions their fellow students are asking.

Right now, students are taking on some of the most controversial and divisive topics in the United States. They need reporting that keeps each other informed. Student reporting is critical to this national conversation. There’s no one place to find that reporting and student opinion/commentary.

What about student censorship?

Not all states protect the 1st Amendment rights of student journalists. The Student Press Law Center is working to change that, but right now we’re concerned that student journalists are being censored by their schools. Our platform will invite students to work with professional journalists to publish stories that have been censored.

A little more background on censorship. Right now, six states (including New York) are discussing bills that would give students more First Amendment rights and protect journalism teachers’ jobs. These bills — collectively known as New Voices legislation — are riding the momentum of the 13 states that currently have similar legislation that essentially overrides the 1988 Hazelwood Supreme Court decision and extends students the rights of the 1969 Tinker decision. The legislation covers both high school and college journalists.

Katina Paron is part of the coalition in New York State that’s trying to restore First Amendment rights to students. She’s the Director of the NYC High School Journalism Collaborative at Baruch College and the author of the forthcoming “A NewsHound’s Guide to Student Journalism. You can find more about the work of that NY coalition on Facebook and take a student survey here.

Algorithms, trust and transparency on the front page

Student journalists will be able to upload stories to the website, and then vote them up to the front page, similar to reddit.

What should a student’s criteria be for voting a story up on the newswire? We asked Jennifer 8. Lee, journalist, emoji activist, and contributor to the Credibility Coalition. She recommends students ask these questions of their work:

  • Is it a first-hand account?
  • Does it make a point?
  • Is it well-written?
  • Is there a photo?
  • Is there a complete set of facts?

And we ask you, what would your algorithm include? There’s an interesting media literacy opportunity in discussion about the values that go into our “algorithm” behind the up votes. We hope this will be a vibrant part of the discussion.

Funding

What we’re building is a cooperative similar to the Associated Press, with member student newspapers. We want student journalists to be paid for their work. We’re going to be reaching out to content licensing managers at major news organizations in the next week. We’ll be asking foundations for help. We’ll also give people a way to subscribe directly to the student work.

These are some of the things we’re exploring as we build the newswire and invite high school journalists to use it. We’re hoping for an organic evolution of the newswire, with lots of industry input, but this is the way we’ve begun.

Who are we?

We’re a cross-disciplinary team of graduate students from the NYC Media Lab’s seminal class, Tech, Media & Democracy.

From the website: “Six of New York City’s universities are partnering to defend and support journalism and independent news media — one of the most critical elements of our democracy — as they are increasingly under threat.”

How can you help?

Follow us on Twitter @con_spire. Join our FB group or the conversation on the subreddit student_walkout. And, if you like the work, please share.

Jessica Brockington, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, @birdyuws
Christopher Caulfield, Cornell Tech, @ctcaulfield
Julian Lange, Parsons School of Design, @julianhlange
Colum Murphy, CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, @Colum_M
Bradley Wise, Cornell Tech @wise_bmw246