In the dimmed classroom, I perked up as the Frontline documentary announced that Marin County, just miles away, has one of the nation’s lowest vaccination rates. The conundrum that such a highly educated liberal-leaning population is largely unwilling to participate in a vital aspect of public health propelled me into the school newsroom, where my initial curiosity evolved into a story proposal.
A week later, my co-writer and I exchanged looks of disbelief when we got an interview with Carl Krawitt, the outspoken vaccine advocate who had been interviewed by the NYTimes, Reuters, and in that same documentary. Soon after, we were also interviewing students whose parents fear vaccination, administrators who enforce California’s strict vaccination laws, and science teachers who facilitate challenging discussions about the charged subject.
We broached formidable journalistic ethical questions: how do we maintain sources’ anonymity without sacrificing credibility? How do we acknowledge scientifically baseless opinions without providing a platform and legitimacy? How can we try to remain objective on such a charged issue? Are we doing enough to counterbalance our biases?
Time and time again, my experiences as a student journalist have allowed me to take my classroom learning and run with it. I go beyond what is being taught in class and seek out primary sources in my school and local community. My endless questions in the classroom mature into thought-provoking interview inquiries. And after countless rounds of fact-checking and copyediting, I’m proud to share my findings and spark discussion among my peers.