BluePrints Magazine’s Copy Editor Jackie Wright and Co-Editors-in-Chief Stephany Gaona-Perez and Brittany Lopez have been announced as winners of the Student Press Law Center’s Courage in Student Journalism Award, recognizing their reporting on a story where a local school board appointee misled the public while raising money for a congressional race for which he was too young to serve.
The SPLC’s Courage in Student Journalism Award recognizes middle or high school student journalists at a national level “who showed determination, despite difficulty or resistance, in lawfully exercising their First Amendment press rights.”. As this year’s winners, BluePrints will receive an added bonus of a $1,000 cash prize.
Wright, Gaona-Perez, and Lopez received backlash for their work on two news articles and a staff editorial about a school board appointee who made false claims about where and when he graduated high school.
“I do think that every time we write about a sensitive topic, we question the ethics behind it, and how we, as the reporters, have an impact. I think each one of us writes about things that are important to the community, and each of us advocates for the truth and for the vulnerable,” Lopez said.
BluePrints adviser Marc Ginsberg says the negative reactions from the community to the students’ work was new to all three journalists and a teachable experience for the publication as a whole.
“Publishing this story gave the entire staff a confidence boost after they saw their work having real consequences in real time. While the public criticism shocked them at first, I think it has only strengthened their desire to hold people accountable for their words and actions,” Ginsberg said.
All three reporters feel that tackling a story with such strong responses has prepared them for future topics.
“I think it made me more ambitious about the stories that I pursue and I think I’ve seen that in (Lopez and Gaona-Perez) who have such cool and big story pitches,” Wright said. “And if we can make something that is that impactful then it means that we can work toward doing it again. It doesn’t necessarily have to be such a negative spin, but it can still be big.”
Not only did the outcome of the article give the trio confidence in their writing, but it also reminded them of the impact their work can have outside of the school building.
“With that story, I realized how many people actually read our articles. At first, I was like ‘We’re just a high school publication, who really reads our stuff other than faculty, staff and some students?’ Then I realized how many people actually read our publication for news and certain updates,” Gaona-Perez said. “It made me more confident and whenever I post something I think about how not only is Cedar Shoals going to read it, but also other members from the community.”
Ginsberg says that this experience models what being a journalist is all about: getting news and information out to people even if it might be upsetting.
“I am still proud of the work these students did in reporting this story,” Ginsberg said. “Last year was a challenging one for the entire school system, and while this story was not necessarily ‘good news,’ it resulted in positive change by reminding adults that the students are always watching.”