Throughout the 2022-23 school year, high school and college student journalists from across the country shared examples of their bold journalism with us for our blog series Behind the Story. These students had tons of helpful tips for other student journalists looking to pursue similar stories.
It’s always good to go into each new school year with some words of encouragement and practical ideas, so to help you get prepared for the year ahead, we’ve pulled together some of the top tips they shared.
Explore our full hub of back-to-school guides, tips and resources here.
There’s no “I” in journalism (OK, yes there is, but you know what we mean)
For budding student journalists, one way to hone your skills, develop connections with your community, get more reporting experience and just write some great stories is to get some guidance from your more experienced peers.
Especially if you’re tackling a story that may feel like it’s too big to accomplish, don’t be afraid of a double or even triple byline! You can do anything with a little support from your newsroom friends.
“It’s okay to ask for help,” Olivia Brunsting, a student journalist at The Daily Iowan said when talking about the reporting process for her story, “R(A)eality of Being an RA.” “I was nervous that if I asked for help that meant I was failing, that I’m admitting I can’t do it. But that’s why we have a team. The newspaper can work as a team because we help each other.”
Meet other students who shared similar advice: Dani & Ethan; Nathalie; Ellie & Shannon; Sri Anchanta, Angelina Liu, Manasa Mohan & Srihari Yechangunja.
Build connections with the community around you
Journalism is all about telling the stories of your communities, and one of the best ways to do that is to build up your source network and maintain strong connections with the community around you.
Stay in touch with sources even after you wrap up a story, take the time to really get to know the people you’re talking to and listen to their stories, or even send feedback surveys to your sources after you run a story to build an open line of communication. That’s what Aleksandra Sidorova’s student paper Cardinal Points does, which eventually led Sidorova to report her story, “Platts student-parent count not yet certain.”
“I felt I had trust from all of my sources and learned to not be careless in my reporting. All of my sources, I think they’re a result of rapport I’ve built with some of them, connections I’ve made where I can just name-drop someone, and then they’re willing to talk to me,” Sidorova said.
Never stop asking questions
Are you running into roadblocks trying to access important info you need for your story? You’re not alone. Administrators and other public officials will frequently make it hard to access what you need to tell your story, but you should never stop asking questions.
“Don’t be afraid of the university,” Abigail Turner said when discussing her story “As union members strike, frustrations with contract and wage increases causes tension with University.” “I think there’s a balance between them protecting the image of the university and making sure student journalists can get the information they need to accurately portray the story. So, I think my biggest advice is to use the university as a resource. Even if they seem like they’re just not gonna give the information, you just push them for it.”
SPLC can help you get the information you need!
Public records are an incredibly important tool for student journalists, and SPLC is here to make sure you can get the information you need to report the stories that need to be told. Check out some of our resources below, or you can explore our full library of resources here.
Be persistent but patient with the process
Breaking news happens, story angles change, newsroom priorities shift. While journalism is notorious for its deadlines, the writing and reporting process is flexible and to tell the best stories they can, the students we’ve talked to found that their best pieces of journalism evolved throughout the process.
For our Type A friends, yes, you’re gonna have to go with the flow sometimes, but you can do it: be persistent yet patient!
“You have to be willing to stick with a piece and let it develop organically,” Emma Gao said when sharing more about her story “Celebrating Hispanic and Latinx Culture with joy, community and color.” “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.”
P.S. Emma worked with a bigger team of friends to write this long-form story…so we’re back to how great it is to have a mentor or a team working on one outstanding story!
Meet other students who shared similar advice: Sri Anchanta; Angelina Liu; Manasa Mohan & Srihari Yechangunja; Abigail & Sarah.
Accept challenges and take risks
Stories that are challenging to tell are often the most important to your community and as student journalists, you may frequently find yourselves in the position to tell those hard stories for your school community and the community around you.
Sometimes the story angle can change. Sometimes you’ll have to really dig for the information you’re looking for. But it’s so worth it to stick with it.
“I think that’s one of the main jobs of a journalist: to make sure that that truth is out there, completely unfiltered. And that’s why this story resonates so much with me, because it fights against censorship while also informing about censorship,” Manasa Mohan said when discussing the details of her reporting process for her story about book bannings, “‘We have the right to read.’”
Stand up against self-censorship
No matter how challenging a story is to tell, student journalists must be empowered to tell the stories most important to their communities, free from overt censorship, and able to withstand the pressures that lead to self-censorship. Yet, many of the students who share their stories of self-censorship with SPLC indicate that they didn’t know they were engaged in self-censorship at the time. So, take our self-censorship quiz, share it with your newsroom, and learn how to better identify and resist self-censorship. And remember, SPLC is here to help! If you’ve been censored, or need any kind of media law help, contact our hotline.
Do your research
To do good journalism, you need to get the full picture of the story you’re covering. Leave no stone uncovered and really search for the information you need to make your story impactful. And, this research includes actual background research, conducting all of the possible interviews you can for your piece and taking the time to piece together the full story.
“Speak to all the interested parties,” Ethan Schenker said when sharing more about the story his newspaper published, “‘It’s getting closer and closer’: Debate team takes stock after students’ antisemitic comments on club trip.” “Even if what they say could open the door even wider and you’re trying to get a story out, if you know someone’s waiting behind that door and you still don’t open it, it’s not necessarily fulfilling your responsibility as a journalist.”
SPLC’s Always Got Your Back
As you’re working on pulling everything together for your next story, make sure to review all of the legal resources, guides and services we provide in our legal guides library. Here, we’ve collected our expertise and research to help you learn your rights — and how to protect them — and how to spot (and avoid) the most common legal and ethical traps when gathering and distributing the news.