Interview by Rei Wolfsohn, Storytelling Intern at the Student Press Law Center. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Student journalists are instrumental in telling important — and often untold — stories for their communities. Each week SPLC highlights examples of bold journalism done by high school and collegiate student journalists for our series, Behind the Story.
SPLC spoke with senior Sarah Mohammed, junior Emma Gao and junior Kinnera Mulam from The Harker School. Mohammed is the editor-in-chief, Gao is the news section co-editor and Mulam is the STEM section co-editor for Harker Aquila. The three student journalists spoke about their experiences writing “Celebrating Hispanic and Latinx Culture with joy, community and color.”
Check out past Q&As here.
RW: How did you initially come across this story?
KM: At first, we were preparing to write a brief article on Hispanic Heritage Month. Then we started doing interviews for it and we quickly realized that it wasn’t going to be possible to fit every aspect of the culture in just 300 words. So we ended up expanding it and it became a long-form. It’s Emma’s and my first year in journalism actually writing, so with Sarah’s help we were able to do our interviews and organize the article more. Even though it took quite a long time, we learned a lot about the long-form process.
RW: What were some challenges you faced while reporting on this story?
EG: One challenge was accurately conveying the depth of everyone’s experiences because we would interview them and those would go pretty well. But we realized that when we wrote the article it felt somehow empty. Their words were really powerful but our writing that accompanied them didn’t set them up well. It didn’t properly convey the depth of what we were trying to represent.
RW: What was something you learned while working on this story?
SM: I think we learned a lot about staying with a piece for a really long time. I was going through edits so much that at some points it felt like we would never have it published. So I think we learned a lot about persistence in journalism. Because oftentimes we think about journalism as a fast-paced movement through our news cycles, but these long pieces that can take 6-8 months are also really important.
RW: What was it like taking statistics and events at the school and turning them into an in-depth narrative about the community’s culture?
EG: Those statistics were really important to have because it was sort of the reason why this piece is so important: because the population at our school is so small. It was that we actually really brought it to light to see their thoughts on it.
RW: Do you have any interview tips when it comes to talking with sources about their experiences with racism?
SM: Just making them feel comfortable and not pushing the sources, letting them talk and stop if they need to. Just creating a comfortable atmosphere.
RW: Do you have any tips for crafting a long-form narrative?
EG: You have to be willing to stick with a piece and let it develop organically. We used what the sources were saying to figure out what aspects we wanted to focus on, what angle we wanted. So, stick with it and be willing to go through a lot of edits and pivot a lot.
RW: What advice would you give to other student journalists who are looking to report on a story like this?
KM: For pieces trying to represent a culture in general, really try to tie that piece to the community you’re in. For us, we don’t have a very large Latinx population. So, it was difficult at times finding sources. But, it also gave us an angle to talk about how there isn’t enough of a Latinx population at our school.
RW: Why is it so important to tell stories like these?
SM: For us, it was important to highlight the Hispanic community at our school, and just share their experiences. We hadn’t done a lot covering Hispanic Heritage Month in previous years at our publication. It was important for them to know that we want to share their stories and for the community to be able to hear them.
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