Student journalism as a hall pass

I interview Japanese exchange students on their impressions of Durham for an article.

On one of my first days in newspaper class, a senior handed me a slip of paper. A black-and-white, school printer quality headshot stared back at me as I inspected my new hall pass.

I must have looked confused.

“It’s so you can go interview people during class,” the student passing out the slips explained.

I tossed the tiny piece of paper in my backpack.

“I don’t need this,” I thought.

I understood the intent. My school’s hallways are bookended with tables where teachers station themselves for hall duty, poised and ready to escort a skipping student to the office for discipline. I had seen it happen many times.

I myself had never been stopped in the hallway, though. In this moment, I thought of all the times I’d sped past a staff member in the hall – running an errand for a teacher, going to the restroom, retrieving the notebook I inevitably forgot in another classroom – without any magical piece of paper. Being a white, female student on the honor roll is more powerful than any pass when it comes to evading questions from hallway patrol. This bias sadly works in my favor.

As I became attuned to bias in high school hallways, I learned about it in journalism too. I became a student journalist in the midst of a nationwide obsession with media bias, under a president whose catchphrase was “fake news.”

This culture of bias has impacted consumers of media, too. People are fiercely loyal to their preferred source of news. Disinformation plagues those most vulnerable. People are biased in their very beliefs, completely convinced of their preconceived notions. The importance of journalistic integrity has been drilled deep into me.

I’ve personally written about the stigma surrounding coming forward as a survivor of sexual assault, about the impact of federal immigration enforcement in my community, about gun control after my school underwent an active shooter lockdown, even about a student-led movement to sever school district ties with the Sheriff’s Department. As I told these stories, I anchored my fight against bias in my own experience and that of those around me.

Student journalism taught me about bias, showed me its complexity, and gave me a platform to challenge it all at once. I am one of many student journalists seeking ways to ignite curiosity, empathy, and new perspectives in others every day.

As a senior, I’ve led our bilingual school newspaper staff in producing a paper that informs and tells the stories of our diverse school community – one that I hope challenges bias inherently. Journalism was my hall pass. It took me to places I didn’t know existed, and I have no plans to turn back.

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