Hats off to these student journalists

Published 5:53 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2017

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With the president of the United States telling thousands of Boy Scouts at their Jamboree that one of their biggest concerns ought to be “fake news,” it’s hard to imagine today’s young people wanting to become journalists.

And yet, there are young people who do, and their drive to be honest, investigative journalists may go a long way toward preserving this republic.

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Here’s a case in point. A journalism class of high school students in Pittsburg, Kan. had questions about the woman that the Pittsburg Community Schools Board of Education had appointed to be the high school’s new principal.

Trina Paul, a senior and member of the journalism class, told the Kansas City Star that she and classmates “wanted to be assured that she (the new principal) was qualified and had the proper credentials.”

Most people accepted what the Board of Education told them when Principal Amy Robertson was hired, but not these kids. They began researching Robertson’s background, and something didn’t pass the smell test.

“We stumbled on some things that most might not consider legitimate credentials,” Paul said. So the journalism students kept digging and wrote a story saying the U.S. Department of Education could not find evidence that the private college from which Robertson received her master’s and doctorate degrees — Corlins University — was in operation.

They kept looking and found news articles describing Corlins as a diploma mill where people could buy a diploma or certificate.

The students wrote a story for their school paper and, to their advisor’s credit, it was published.

The Kansas City Star learned of the students’ work and at that point began its own research. It pretty well confirmed that Corlins doesn’t exist, at least not as a legitimate college.

The principal resigned from her new job after a closed-door session with the local Board of Education.

Robertson told the Star that she stood by her credentials. Of the school’s journalism students, she said “their concerns are not based on facts,” In other words, the students had generated “fake news,” buttressed by the U.S. Department of Education. Uh, huh.

Good for the kids at Pittsburg High. What they did served their school, their fellow students, their community and, in a symbolic way, the nation. They proved the value of journalism, local or otherwise, to maintaining the integrity of government and those who govern.

They appear to have done their research for the right reasons. According to their advisor, “They were not out to get anyone to resign or to get anyone fired. They worked very hard to uncover the truth.”

And that search for truth among the chaff is why we have a First Amendment. The right of anyone to research the workings of government and then publish their findings, whether in print or in any other fashion, is so vital to the system we enjoy that it is inconceivable anyone would want to undermine the concept.

Today, there are nearly five public relations people to every working journalist in America. Each of them is paid to pitch news to the benefit of their employers, be the employers government or private industry. And the same trend is occurring in Britain and other advanced nations as well.

Students like those at Pittsburg High give us hope that at least a remnant of working journalists will survive both the downsizing of print journalism and the current assault on the First Amendment by people whose politics are hurt by hard-hitting and factual reporting.

Hats off to those kids. They’re among the nation’s real patriots.