High school journalists cover Michael Brown's funeral after addressing legal, safety concerns

MISSOURI — Phillip Robinson-Morgan and Jelissa Puckett had notes from parents to miss school earlier this week, but not for the usual doctor’s appointment. Instead, the two high school journalists in St. Louis were reporting on one of the biggest news events of the year.

After their adviser and school administrators met to weigh legal and safety concerns — and set rules — the students from Ladue Horton Watkins High School worked alongside national news outlets as they covered Michael Brown’s funeral in St. Louis.

Brown, an unarmed 18-year-old in Ferguson, was shot six times by police officer Darren Wilson on Aug. 9. Following the incident, protests broke out in Ferguson, where journalists’ arrests became part of the story.

“Safety is our No. 1 concern,” said Don Goble, who teaches a class that produces the Ladue View, a news website at LHS. “And we discussed that if professional journalists can be arrested and grouped in the violence, of course we would be concerned about our students.”

In order to ensure their safety, Goble created a list of guidelines for the students if they decided to report from the field.

“It was more so the school board that was stopping us for our safety from the protests,” Puckett said. “Overall, Goble stressed for success while staying safe and following school board rules.”

These guidelines required the students to receive permission from a parent or guardian, which would need to be approved by Goble, Principal Brad Griffith and Superintendent Donna Jahnke. Goble also emphasized that the students were to avoid protest areas, to report objectively and to not rehash “what the mainstream media is doing.”

“We did not, and do not, advocate our students attending the heavily protested areas,” Goble said. “However, we felt there was an immense journalistic opportunity for them, and they could capture these stories without being in the midst of a protest.”

Goble included the Student Press Law Center’s guide to covering protests along with contact information for free legal advice should the students feel the need to use it.

But even with the concern for the students’ safety, Goble and his students still felt that this was an important story for them to cover given the proximity and importance of the events.

“After much deliberation, I came to the conclusion that if my students decided on their own to cover the story, I would support them,” he said.

The coverage Robinson-Morgan and Puckett returned to LHS with included B-roll footage and interviews with those in attendance, as well as a segment on a biker crew that escorted the Brown family to the cemetery, that Goble said he was proud of.

“They were passionate and determined to produce a short video to post to our student multimedia website,” he said. “They both came after school and we spoke about the footage they captured. I believe they told a simple story that profiled a few of the individuals and opinions that were present in the community that day.”

Robinson-Morgan said he has also heard positive feedback on the coverage.

“Many people have congratulated us on our work and our ability to basically compete for footage against larger news companies and other private journalists,” Robinson-Morgan said.

As events and updates continue to come in from Ferguson, Goble said he will continue to support his students who wish to cover the stories.

Contact SPLC staff writer Michael Bragg by email or at (703) 807-1904 ext. 119.