Two survivors of a mass shooting at a U.S. high school in Parkland, Florida urge youth to work for change, saying journalism can make a difference.

By Austin Faulds

Throughout the last century, American journalist and activist Marjory Stoneman Douglas fought for conservation, civil rights and feminism.

Now, the high school that bears her name in Parkland, Florida is being recognized for its students’ journalism.

Last February, a gunman killed 17 students and staff at the school — the worst mass shooting ever at a U.S. academic institution.

So far this year, 343 people have been killed in 312 mass shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot or killed, not including the shooter. Over the first nine months of this year, there were 65 shooting incidents in U.S. schools.

The shooting at the Parkland school received widespread, international attention and helped kick-start the student-led, pro-gun-control movement March for Our Lives.

“You can make a difference.”

This week, the school’s Eagle Eye quarterly newsmagazine and The Guardian US newspaper received the inaugural Global Youth and News Media Prize for their joint news coverage of the March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington, D.C. last March.

On Thursday, Eagle Eye student journalist Dara Rosen and faculty advisor Melissa Falkowski — who was profiled by CNN television after hiding 19 children in a closet during the mass shooting — joined News-Decoder founder Nelson Graves for a webinar about journalism, activism and gun control post-Parkland.

They were joined on camera by students at La Jolla Country Day School in La Jolla, California, and viewers elsewhere in News-Decoder’s global network submitted questions online.

One student expressed frustration at being too young to vote yet wanting to participate in a political movement.

Falkowski encouraged alternative ways of participating — encouraging others to vote, forming school organizations, organizing protests and meeting with state legislators and members of Congress.

“Just because you’re not of voting age doesn’t mean you’re not a constituent of theirs. It doesn’t mean you can’t meet with them to talk about the things you want to see changed,” Falkowski, the mother of two children, said.

Falkowski noted that Parkland alumni David Hogg and Emma González, as well as current senior Cameron Kasky, were not of voting age when they helped organize the March for Our Lives protest.

“Student journalists are important.”

Rosen said writing editorials for a local newspaper or sending letters, while seemingly small acts, can lead to action.

“Small, incremental change is how you get to the big change,” said Rosen, who is in her second-to-last year of high school and wants to become a professional journalist.

Falkowski said the tragedy at the Parkland school exposed the inadequacy of expressions that gun rights advocates sometimes resort to after shootings, such as “thoughts and prayers” and “now’s not the time.” She said those phrases have been used less online since Parkland.

“I think our school really shut that down,” she said, acknowledging however that this month’s midterm elections in the United States delivered a mixed message on gun control, especially in her home state of Florida.

In its coverage of the aftermath of the shooting, the Eagle Eye decided not to report on the shooter himself and focused instead on honoring the victims, first with a memorial issue that carried obituaries of each victim. Rosen said she wrote about Martin Duque Anguiano, the younger brother of a friend.

Rosen recalled that in a measure of how deeply the school community was touched by the event, students took the memorial issue home in the transparent backpacks they were required to use instead of leaving the publication at school, which is the more common practice.

The student publication’s award this week recognizes the importance of student journalism. Falkowski said she has hope for such journalists.

“Student journalists are important,” she said. “You are, first of all, learning how to question what is around you, which is important just as a citizen in general. And most of you, a lot of you, are the future journalists of America, and I think, especially now, America needs journalists more than ever.”

THREE QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. Why are there more gun fatalities in the United States than in other developed countries?
  2. Do you think existing gun controls in the United States should be tightened?
  3. Do you feel safe in your school?

Austin Faulds is a Journalism student at Indiana University. He has reported for the International Press Institute, a global free press advocacy organization in Vienna, as well as for Uganda’s leading newspaper, the Daily Monitor, and is a contributor to Ms. Magazine. A cat lover, he owns six at home in Terre Haute, Indiana.

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