Honors for a hard-hitting school paper

It's not often that a high school newspaper scoops the local daily papers, especially in a city the size of San Francisco. But that's what happened last fall when students at Berkeley High School brought attention to a case of indentured servitude allegedly involving one of the Bay Area's biggest landlords.

Their sleuthing gained national attention, including a Monitor story (April 18), and next month the staff of the Jacket will receive an unexpected honor: the Journalist of the Year Award from the Society of Professional Journalists' northern California chapter.

Announced last week, the award for the first time will go to someone other than a professional newshound.

"We felt it was a good opportunity to recognize students for the fine work they're doing," says Tim Graham, editor of TechWeek magazine and president of the SPJ chapter.

"They handled their coverage of the story with distinction," he says. "The level of work rose to a level you would even expect professional journalists to do."

Teens on staff learned about libel and other journalistic minefields as they reported on the death of a high-school-age Indian immigrant, in an accident in an apartment building. Though the death received attention in local papers, only the student reporters thought to ask why the victim was not attending school and to talk with others in the community about her living and working conditions (see www.jacket.org). Last week, federal prosecutors charged the former landlord with conspiring to illegally import immigrants from India.

The Jacket is being held up as an example of what teens can achieve when they are allowed to freely cover school and community issues. By contrast, many high school reporters are constrained by censorship.

Megan Greenwell, a junior who wrote the Jacket's initial story with senior Iliana Montauk, says the award is a huge honor. "It's kind of cool to know that somebody is watching [our work] ... other than us," she says. But don't expect to read about it in the Jacket. "We don't do self-glorification," she says.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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