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National News Literacy Week: Rock Canyon H.S. students highlight commitment to balanced journalism

Students sift through rumor, propaganda, fake news
rock canyon journalism
Posted at 5:03 PM, Jan 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-28 13:14:04-05

LONE TREE, Colo. — In a world often driven by social media, it can be hard to spot the difference between what’s real and what’s fake.

As we’ve been highlighting this week on Denver7, this is National News Literacy week. It’s an effort to help shine a light on the importance of fact-checking the news you consume - even when it appears to come from a reputable source.

The journalism students at Rock Canyon High School in Highlands Ranch know that responsibility well. And despite the challenges of still studying remotely, they are working tirelessly to continue bringing the world to their readers – the student body at Rock Canyon.

“We start from the base up,” said Amanda Brauchler, the senior editor-in-chief of the newspaper and yearbook. “We start by talking to students to see: Why is this story relevant to students? And how are students’ perceiving this story or interacting in this story?”

Colorado is one of only 14 states in the nation with a law on the books that gives student newspapers, like The ROCK, complete autonomy. Student newspapers are self-regulated and self-governed with freedom of speech to write and report about what matters to them.

“It’s students doing the work,” said Kristi Rathbun, adviser to The Black & Gold Yearbook and The ROCK. “They do all the writing. They do all the reporting."

Rathbun is also vice president of the Colorado Student Media Association.

“If it wasn’t for student journalism, I wouldn’t know what my rights were,” Brauchler said.

These students say they recognize they have a huge responsibility to report factually and accurately while engaging students at the same time.

“The more we ask them for what they want to talk about, the more we ask for their opinions on things, the more people we talk to — that definitely, I think, helps build your credibility,” said junior copy editor Maddy Merritt.

“We need to do that credibly and in a very trustworthy and understandable manner,” said junior editor-in-chief Kira Zizzo.

For Zizzo, that started early.

“When I was in 4th grade, I started writing for the kids’ section of the Denver Post,” Zizzo said. “For me, it was important to develop these crucial media literacy skills at a young age because I wanted to be a reliable and trustworthy journalist that people could really take seriously.”

Rock Canyon’s newspaper and yearbook are recognized statewide as models for real reporting at the high school level. They are unbiased sources of information students have come to trust.

“Putting content out for everybody to read, we have to make sure it’s credible,” Merritt said. “We have to make sure our sources are credible.”

“We have to get sides from students who are super far right and super far left,” said junior Emma Sheldon, the editor-in-chief of the yearbook.

Students often utilize guides, like the National News Literacy Project checklist, which helps next generation journalists and news consumers discern credible information from misinformation in an ever-changing media landscape.

“The more our readers trust that we are educated in media literacy, the more they will trust our content,” Zizzo said.

Students also recognize the dangers of social media and the echo chamber it can often become — reinforcing our own bias.

“Are we looking for information that we want to support our pre-existing beliefs or are we actually being open-minded to hearing everything that’s out there?” Merritt said. “You do get a lot of bias information from your social media feed.”

Brauchler recently wrote an article about fake charities on Instagram, including one that claimed for every new follower, it would donate food and money to children in Sudan.

“These platforms were getting hundreds of thousands of followers because people were reposting them, saying, ‘Please do something good. It takes two seconds. It’s so easy to help this person.’ And then, that platform disappears overnight and turns into a company that’s selling something,” Brauchler said. “And they now automatically have 100,000 new followers that they can sell to.”

The very real reporting The ROCK is doing is helping educate students about real world issues that matter to them. It also gives these young reporters the skill set they need to thrive.

“We really strive to create a culture where each journalist defines their own abilities and how far they can go,” Rathbun said.

“It’s our responsibility to reverse this negative narrative of distrust in the media by reporting truthfully and covering all sides of the story,” Zizzo said.