Student journalists nationwide cover March for Our Lives rallies

WASHINGTON, D.C. As hundreds of thousands of gun violence protesters rallied on Pennsylvania Avenue, Virginia high school students Aseal Saed and Yvonne White went to work.

Equipped with an iPhone and a Nikon camera, the duo waded into a sea of signs looking for students to interview. In the shadow of the Newseum a few blocks from the main stage they met with a pair of students from Delaware to do a quick interview on what they wanted to get out of the march.

“Let’s make a change today,” the students told White.

Saed and White are two of the hundreds of student reporters nationwide covering the March for Our Lives in D.C. and its sibling rallies in cities around the U.S. 

Because the March for Our Lives was a student-led movement, student reporters had the ability to provide a different perspective in their coverage than national outlets.

The main march

The main march in D.C. drew hundreds of thousands of supporters and featured 20 speakers all of whom were children or teenagers and performances from a number of artists, including Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus and Lin-Manuel Miranda.

Saed, the editor-in-chief for Annandale (Va.) High School’s student newspaper, The A-Blast, mapped out her newspaper’s coverage on a sheet of paper that she carried around during the march. Her plan was to localize the story by focusing on Annandale students’ involvement, but she also wanted to include voices from across the nation.

“We want it to have the unique perspective of specific students so it’s not just like another story in The Washington Post,” said White, a copy editor and circulation ad manager for The A-Blast. “And so Annandale students can read the story, like, ‘Oh, I know that person there. And that’s so cool that they are standing up for their rights.’ Or, not necessarily agree with it.”

Members of The Eagle Eye, the student newspaper at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., spoke at the Newseum on March 23, where they explained their position on the rally and how they’ve covered the story differently than national outlets.

“I think as a student publication, we have that liberty and that resource to be able to reach out to our students who actually survived this shooting,” said Christy Ma, an associate editor for The Eagle Eye. “We have the resources to accurately portray what happened, and be able to tell the stories of what happened.”

Rebecca Wessel and Oreet Zimand, two juniors from Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Md. and staff writers for the Silver Chips Online, said student publications are able to relate to students and focus on the angles that students are most interested in

Since the march took place during Montgomery Blair’s spring break, Wessel and Zimand planned to interview students who marched in other cities across the country. They also talked with the school’s track team, who wore armbands at a meet in support of the movement.

“As a student newspaper, our job is to serve the students,” Zimand said. “Our angle is to show their voices, why they’re there, and what they believe in. Sometimes, with other media sources, things can get lost.”

Some of the student reporters also participated in the rally, carrying signs and joining in the call for change, though students said they worked to create a distinction between their personal beliefs and their reporting.

“We’ll be snapping pictures but we’ll also be cheering and shouting,” said Emma Dowd, The Eagle Eye’s co-editor in chief. “We all have personal opinions, so in our covering of the story, we are going to be as neutral as we can be. The facts. What happens. But in our personal lives, many of us feel very passionately about what this movement is aiming towards.”

Though she attended the rally as a reporter, Avni Singh, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Alexandria, Va., and the production editor for the school’s newspaper, TJ Today, said she experienced a few different emotions while covering the march. She said it was sad hearing people discuss their experiences with gun violence, but she was relieved seeing so many people gathered to rally for change.

“I didn’t expect it to affect me as much as it did,” Singh said. “I really think everyone should have this experience in their lifetime.”

Around the country

With more than 800 sister marches held around the world, student reporters across the nation had the opportunity to cover the historic movement. Journalists at Robinson High School’s RHS Today covered their Tampa, Fla. rally.

The school did not allow anyone to promote the rally, said Macy McClintock, an RHS junior and a managing editor for RHS Today. Students were not allowed to hang posters or coordinate buses to the event. The paper decided to make the censorship the story.

“That became the angle, how kids were using their voices even when they’re limited,” McClintock said.

Another Tampa high school’s newspaper had a different approach to its coverage. Marin Fehl, a sophomore page editor at Hillsborough High School’s The Red and Black, said she took photos at the event and interviewed the mayor and a state representative. But, overall, Fehl said they wanted the focus to be on student activism.

“A lot of them related to this,” Fehl said. “[The shooting] was such close proximity.”

Louisiana State University’s The Daily Reveille staff covered rallies in the state’s two biggest cities: Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

“The biggest thing I told [my reporters] was to ask students ‘why are you out here, what inspired you?'” said Evan Saacks, an LSU sophomore and The Daily Reveille’s news editor. “I want to tell LSU what is happening. I’d really like to capture LSU’s voice and present it in a way they can read it.”

In Seattle, The Ballard Talisman from Ballard High School had to work to ensure its coverage was neutral, as some staff members were participating in the march. Those who did participate did not contribute to the reporting, and those out on assignment were there to report but not participate. Senior political correspondent Oscar Zahner said he did not want people who disagreed with the movement’s message to feel “sidelined” by their coverage.

“Objective coverage is the best way to give the movement exposure,” Zahner said.

Working with professionals

While most student journalists covered the events for their own school publications, others were able to share their reporting with commercial news outlets.

Staff members of The Eagle Eye were featured as guest editors with Britain’s The Guardian for its rally coverage, while reporters for The Wilson Beacon at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in D.C. worked with The Huffington Post, who tagged and tweeted the Beacon to their 11.5 million followers.

“The best part is definitely all the Twitter notifications,” said junior Maya Wilson, the features editor at The Wilson Beacon.

SPLC staff writer Taylor Potter can be reached by email or at (202) 478-1926. He is on Twitter @wmtaylorpotter.

Want more stories like this? The Student Press Law Center is a legal and educational nonprofit defending the rights of student journalists. Sign up for our free Weekly News Roundup.