The aim of good journalism is to utilize the First Amendment to create an informed public – whether that is by digging into situations, exploring culture or talking to people.
Though I believe in few restrictions as to what can be said, there are limits on ethical reporting. There’s also occasionally the right way and the wrong way to say something and the right way and the wrong way to prove a point.
State the facts: that’s the basic tenant of journalism.
State all of the facts: that’s the basic tenant of good journalism.
When meeting with the editor at Colorado Community Media, Ann Healey, she told me that a good story answers any questions a reader could possibly have. Now, aside from ensuring my own stories meet that standard, I work to make sure everyone else’s do as well.
Right before winter break last year, two female students at Mountain Vista were apprehended on charges including conspiracy to murder. Two staff members at the time, Savanah Howard and Lauren Lippert, were eager to write about it.
The story, originally titled “Tragedy in MVHS,” quickly underwent massive additions and changes before being published.
Below is the first copy Lauren and Savanah approached me with.
Aside from some obvious edits, I also advised the girls to link in the live coverage from The Denver Post, address the sergeant by name, add something from the principal, include the entire district and search out more student responses while also providing them with emails, links and contact information that they could use. All of additions were put into place to provide more clarity and depth to the story so the audience wouldn’t feel clueless about such a prominent event. We also changed the name to “Threats Surface to MVHS” to prevent any misconception.
Below is the finish piece that was published on Vista Now. The story may also be accessed by clicking here.
Savanah and Lauren also did a great job piecing together multiple interviews for followup stories and took initiative on writing about Text-A-Tip for the next issue of our newsmagazine.
Two days before winter break, everyone at Vista was made aware of threats made by two 16-year-old students to commit acts of violence against students and faculty. Soon after, Sienna Johnson was taken into custody and tried as an adult for conspiring to commit first-degree murder.
The senior editors were responsible for deciding whether or not to include the two students in the yearbook.
When we first convened, everyone except for myself and my co-editor-in-chief Kelsey Pharis wanted to run the names. After talking it through, we decided to ask for advice from Arapahoe High School.
Arapahoe had left Karl Pierson, who had shot and killed Claire Davis before taking his own life, in the yearbook. They felt that it was their duty as journalists to allow the portrait pages to serve as a public record for the school.
With that in mind, I could see both sides of the argument: Both Brooke Higgins and Sienna Johnson, at one point, were students at Mountain Vista. But at the same time, they’re now brought up on adult charges and face no possibility of setting foot in Mountain Vista ever again.
We decided to talk to our principal, Michael Weaver, about the matter. He claimed that he didn’t want our yearbook to serve as a record book that people look back on to remember all of the terrible, awful things a few students tried to do because it distracted from the upstanding accomplishments other students at Mountain Vista had made.
Considering all of the knowledge we had obtained, the editors decided unanimously to take both Higgins and Johnson out of the portrait section yearbook. We decided to still value the honesty of the history by placing their trial in the chronological section of the yearbook, but didn’t grant the story a face.
It's easy to catch yourself editing a photo unethically to make it better than it truly is.
As a photojournalist myself, the editing work I do to my photos has developed a lot over time.
Starting out, I wasn’t too great at working a camera because I had never been taught how to. Though I’ve now been to a lot of professional lectures and learned a lot from other editors and staff members, the majority of what I now know how to do was self taught.
Because I now can actually take good photos the first time around, I find myself doing minimal editing.
Some things I never do unless in the case of a photo illustration:
Clone in or out an object or background.
Draw directly onto a photo or fill in loose space.
Blur or correct the focus.
Adjust anything other than image mode, brightness or manual levels.
For most photos I take, I only rarely adjust the crop and occasionally the brightness.