Around this time last year, I was on a Greyhound bus with around 20 of other journalism staff members from my high school frantically approving hundreds of comments for my newspaper’s website, http://www.mvnews.org. I was headed to a National Scholastic Press Association journalism convention in Minneapolis in the midst of chaos back at my high school. Earlier that week, an opinion column I had written called “Football unfairly overshadows other school activities” had been posted to the website. In the first two days of the article being posted, over 500 comments flooded onto the site. For a website that had a previously held a comment record of around 10, the reaction to the column was unbelievable.
When I first wrote the column, I had no idea how my words would affect my school. On the first day the column was published online, one student printed off copies and handed them out in anger to other students. While in Minneapolis, I heard how some teachers had devoted class periods to talking about my column. A student on Facebook even joked about flipping my car, which was sitting in the school parking lot, while I was away on the trip. It’s safe to say that no other experience in my life had prepared me for that first week following the column being published.
Soon, anonymous comments overtook the online forum, and a couple of hostile and unproductive contributors sparked concern among my school administrators. Over the weekend in Minneapolis, my adviser and I decided to suspend any comment activity until we could write a comment policy for the website upon our return home (We had never thought about needing such a policy before). The experience as a whole taught me a great number of lessons about journalism. Through my supporters I learned the value in speaking for change, and through my critics I recognized the importance of developing a thick skin. After writing the column, I saw, first hand, the power that journalism can have along with the danger that can result if journalists aren’t careful with that power.