Student Journalists on Reporting Florida Shooting

by Catherine Douglas Moran

Parkland, Fla. students talk about being both crime survivors and reporters at the Newseum.

Margaret Brennan with students Emma Dowd, Christy Ma, Nikhita Nookala, Rebecca Schneid and Kevin Trejos (Photo by Catherine Douglas Moran.)

On the eve of a nationwide protest against gun violence, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student journalists shared their reporting experiences from the Feb. 14 shooting that claimed 17 lives. The student journalists are in town to cover the March 24 March For Our Lives, an event on the National Mall organized by shooting survivors calling for increased gun control and school safety measures.

Student journalists Emma Dowd, Christy Ma, Nikhita Nookala, Rebecca Schneid and Kevin Trejos from The Eagle Eye, the Marjory Stoneman’s school paper, recounted handling the shooting as both survivors and journalists. Margaret Brennan, moderator of CBS News’ “Face the Nation” and a CBS News senior foreign correspondent, led the discussion at the Newseum. Brennan asked the students about whether they plan to be activists or journalists at the March For Our Lives. Schneid said that her participation will be both. “Nobody wants this to happen again,” she said, adding that a manifesto – representing the views of the paper – lists suggested policy changes. Those demands do not reflect all of the views of people at the school, Trejos said. “It can’t be said Marjory Stoneman Douglas agrees to one thing,” he said.

Dowd said that she wasn’t ready emotionally to report on the tragedy and that The Eagle Eye staff allowed her time to grieve as a survivor. Dowd said she hid in the photo closet during the shooting, which happened during one of the school periods when the paper meets. “I wasn’t able to distance myself from the tragedy,” Dowd said.

Ma said she snapped quickly into reporting mode. “I knew this would have to get published eventually,” she said. “I didn’t think about it right away.” The victims, though, are more than just the number “17.” She said that the school paper has the resources and liberty to accurately portray what happened, while other media outlets have made mistakes with spellings of names and depictions of students. “That just angers me – stuff like that,” she said.

Nookala jumped in to say that one student reporter marked up inaccuracies in a story by another publication and sent it to the reporter.  She added that reporting was therapeutic and helped her acknowledge the new reality that the Parkland shooting was worse than the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 that killed 12 students and one teacher.

The latest issue of the paper, which comes out quarterly, serves as a memorial to all 17 students who died. Schneid said that other journalists don’t know the school and its students like the student journalists do. The paper wrote obituaries that are more than facts about the lives lost; they showed what made each individual special, she said. “It’s our job as journalists of their school to tell their stories for them,” she said.

The students said that they collectively agreed to not name the shooter, who was a student at the school. They also decided not to publish his photo to ensure that the attention stays on the victims. While people respond to news coverage about tragedies differently, the students said that they consumed news to grasp what happened. “Doing anything felt wrong, so I just watched the news,” Schneid said.

With the press spotlight on the high school and upcoming march, Nookala said she would like to see the media coverage focus more on the activism than survivors, who are trying to go to back to their daily school routines. As for thoughts on the march as a potentially historic moment, Trejos said the impact hasn’t registered with him yet. “For me, it’s like my friends decided to start a march, and there will be tons of people there,” he said. “That’s where I’m at.”

The March For Our Lives in D.C. starts at noon on Pennsylvania Avenue on March 24. 

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