Jenn Smith: Helping student journalists learn how to leverage the power of the press

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If there's anything I've learned from the past 14 years of interviewing students in Berkshire County, it's that young people have a powerful voice; they just need to learn more about how to use it.

On Saturday, The Berkshire Eagle and Miss Hall's School will co-host an inaugural Berkshire County Student Journalism Summit, a day for teens to get together with area reporters, editors, photographers, designers and other media innovators to learn how to leverage the power of the press. The program is free and open to any Berkshire County-area students in grades 8 to 12 and their teachers looking to build news skills in tandem with learning to exercise their freedom of speech.

From The Williams Record to The Beacon, The Greylock Echo to The Bold Eagle, the county has strong history in sustaining student publications. But times are changing, and like their counterparts currently working in the field, student journalists, too, need to evolve and sharpen their craft.

The idea to convene a student summit stemmed from a Nov. 1 visit to our newsroom from a pair of Miss Hall's juniors, Kande Charles and Yuki Wei, and their teacher, Liz Kulze, a former journalist.

"For me, journalism is ultimately a source of empowerment, which helps us to understand both ourselves and the smaller and larger communities in which we reside," said Kulze, who is overseeing the students' efforts to build and launch a student-run digital news website at their school.

"Journalism is important to me because while not everybody is able to verbally use their voice through writing, reporting, photography etc., they are able to find and use their voice through that," said Charles, who recently wrote about a classmate who volunteers helping lawyers with cases at Community Legal Aid.

"I think that the ability to be in communication with real-life professionals and work with other student journalists would benefit students greatly," she said.

So, we wondered aloud: What if we could create an event that brought the resources they needed directly to them? And get other journalism students involved, too?

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Now, we're doing just that.

Another thing I've learned while working on this project is to never underestimate a student's curiosity and tenacity.

We've invited Vermont's Halle Newman, Nataleigh Noble and Julia Shannon-Grillo, staff members of The Register at Burlington High School, as our keynote speakers. They'll talk about their successful fight to keep their First Amendment and student press freedom rights after the school's administration tried to censor a story they broke last year about a guidance counselor facing allegations of unprofessional conduct.

"I am most looking forward to get connected with young, passionate journalists around my age and share our experiences and thoughts with each other," said Wei, an intrepid young reporter in her own right.

Last year, she took a trip to the Amazon, which resulted in her co-authoring an investigative story on how Chinese communities in Peru are linked with concerns toward wildlife trade in exotic meats, animal parts and live animals.

"Journalism is important to me because it has a huge influence on the way I view this world," she said. "Journalism offers me a horizon to the bigger world outside of my window. It gives me a sense of identity as a global citizen and teaches me to take the responsibility behind this identity."

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6239.


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