MISSOURI — When student reporters at the Webster GrovesHigh School Echodecided to do a story on illegal cigarette salesto minors, they had no idea they would be part of a news story themselves.
But after a student’s film was destroyed by a co-manager at one of thestores, the incident became the lead story on the evening news.
Reporters Hilary Johnson and Katie Zach were investigating the numberof local stores that illegally sell cigarettes to minors for the Januaryissue of the Echo. On Jan. 6, the two underage reporters visited12 different stores and were able to purchase cigarettes at six of them.
The next day, the students came into the school’s newspaper office withsix packs of cigarettes.
“I insisted that the girls go back and actually talk to the places andgive them a chance to respond,” said Echo adviser Donald Johnson.
That evening, editor Amy Cook, armed with her camera, joined Johnsonand Zach. On their return to Schnucks Supermarketone of the stores thatsold them cigarettesa store employee confiscated and destroyed Cook’s filmafter the reporters asked why the store had sold cigarettes to them withoutasking for identification.
According to Hilary Johnson, store co-manager Jane Cooper “pretty muchsaid that there was no way that we could have possibly bought cigarettesat Schnucks that night unless we showed fake IDs or got someone to buythem who was over-age. She basically said we were lying.”
“The situation was getting a little tense,” Donald Johnson said, “sothe young ladies started to leave and [Cooper] said, ‘Oh no, we’re goingto settle this right here and now.'” Then Cooper took Cook’s camera andcut up her film.
After the incident, Cook contacted News Channel 5, KSDK, and the girls’story was the first spot on the following Monday’s news.
After News Channel 5’s report on the incident, Schnucks issued a publicapology for Cooper’s actions and gave Cook a coupon for five free rollsof film and developing.
Marie Casey, a spokeswoman for Schnucks, said the incident does notreflect the nature of the company.
“The manager in question was not acting according to store policy,”she said. “Schnucks sincerely regrets this ever happened and would havewhether it came to light or not.”
The Echo published the story in its Jan. 31 edition and includeda copy of the receipt from the reporters’ cigarette purchase at Schnucks.