In 2020, student journalists covered monumentally historic elections and played a critical role by providing accurate information on local issues that often weren’t being covered by any other news outlets. The work of student journalists is not only a public good, but a great educational opportunity for the students themselves.
Student reporting reaches young voters and helps them better understand their voting rights. Despite efforts to suppress the youth vote, according to the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, 52%-55% of youth voted in 2020, and their impact was decisive in key races across the country. With so much at stake, student press covered students registering to vote for the first time and challenges facing college students who had to establish residency in new states in order to register to vote. They detailed the many states that have prohibited the use of student ID cards for voter identification, and required in-state drivers’ licenses. They provided information about candidates and clarity around registering to vote, finding polling places, early voting and mail-in voting options and, of course, nuanced coverage of the results of the election.
Meanwhile, COVID-19 has exacerbated the already critical financial state of many local newsrooms nationwide. Many local papers have had to lay off reporters or even fold, which is creating news deserts in a time when citizens desperately need accurate and unbiased information about their government, police, schools and community as a whole. Student journalists are stepping up to fill in this crucial gap of local coverage.
Conducting local news reporting — interviewing political candidates, attending city council or school board meetings, staying tuned into the top concerns facing citizens and investigating to find the truth behind complex issues — provides student journalists with the best possible hands-on civics education.
Many students go even further, leading New Voices efforts to expand and codify press freedom protections at high schools, colleges and universities. Their advocacy will help protect future student journalists in this essential work, which in turn will benefit the communities they cover.
Excellent Student Stories About Elevating Civic Engagement
High school journalists contextualize voting for young people
A Wingspan student reporter at Liberty High School in Texas published a special report on voting, diving into critical issues like youth participation and the history of racial gerrymandering, breaking down these complex topics for a young audience using engaging visual graphics and a podcast.
High school reporters break the story of a school board member who misled the public about his qualifications
BluePrints news magazine in Athens, Georgia used public records and tough interviews to break the story of a new school board member who lied about having graduated from their school. They also uncovered a campaign finance scandal.
Daily Northwestern investigates the health effects of discriminatory environmental policies
Reporters examined the effects of these policies on the water quality and health of residents of Evanston, Illinois’ historically Black 5th Ward. Be sure to check out the visual graphics, data analysis and multi-episode podcast.