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Kansas high school students embrace importance of journalism and voting

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Marisa Wise believes young voices deserve to be heard because, while they cannot vote, they have the “entire internet at (their) fingertips,” and she uses it to research and stay informed. 

Wise, a 15-year-old from Gardner, was among more than 80 high school students who signed up for The University of Kansas School of Journalism’s Jayhawk Media Workshop or Native Storytelling Workshop this week. The workshops provided classes with focuses on Native storytelling, writing and editing, design, photojournalism, leading a news team, and more.

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Wise participated in the design class and is a design manager for her school’s yearbook team. She said this week solidified her wanting to go into journalism.

Lawrence Humane Society Marisa Wise stands in front of the University of Kansas School of Journalism while attending the Jayhawk Media Workshop on June 14. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

“Young journalists are important because they are the next generation of journalists, and we need to prepare them and get them ready for the world that’s growing and changing every moment,” Wise said. 

Not all of the students who attended plan on a career in journalism. 

Ashanti Riccardo, a 17-year-old from Lawrence who practiced photography this week, is thinking of joining the Air Force and would want to incorporate her love for photography if she enlists. 

Ashanti Riccardo smiles outside the University of Kansas’ School of Journalism while attending the Jayhawk Media Workshop on June 14. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

Turner Brown, a 16-year-old originally from Fort Scott who moved to Gardner within the past five years, said he wants to be a radiation oncologist. He currently serves as a financial editor for The Blazer, Gardner-Edgerton High School’s newspaper, and designs and writes.

“I have a lot of friends who have had cancer. My great-grandma died of cancer. My family has a long history of cancer,” Brown said. “So (I plan on) working with cancer patients to help give some hope.”

While these Kansas high school students have differing futures, the eight students interviewed for this story all plan on registering to vote.

“I’ll be able to actually vote in the next presidential election, because I’ll be 18 by then,” said Brady Knutson, a 15-year-old from Olathe who practiced photojournalism this week. “I think voting is obviously super, super important. It’s like one of the most solid ways to really represent your values on a super large scale.” 

Brady Knutson holds his camera while attending the Photographic Awesomeness class at the University of Kansas School of Journalism’s Jayhawk Media Workshop on June 16. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

Hanna Reed, a 17-year-old from Eureka who wants a career in advertising, considers herself a strong advocate for young people voting. She said she has encouraged people to register to vote by conducting phone calls.

Hayden Houts, a 17-year-old from Lawrence who practiced multimedia this week and plans on a career in broadcast journalism, said being able to vote and making a difference would be an “awesome achievement in (his) life.”

Both Brown and Ethan Hunting, a 17-year-old and soon-to-be copy editor for The Blazer, said voting is their American duty. 

Several of the students harped on the importance of local elections. 

“I think it’s very important to stay involved in politics, because you should be able to voice your opinion,” Hunting said. “It’s important to make sure that you are having an impact in your community that you think can better benefit.”

Ethan Hunting stands outside Wescoe Hall while attending the University of Kansas School of Journalism’s Jayhawk Media Workshop on June 16. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

Brown said he has covered multiple stories concerning school districts and school boards for his school newspaper. 

“I believe small elections are much more important than people usually see,” he said. “I see a lot of these people who work at the school board, you know, and I don’t agree with a lot of their positions.”

Kaila Burnside, a 15-year-old going into her sophomore year from Gardner whose passion is design, said she knows for a fact that she will be living in Kansas for at least the next four years. 

“If I want to get involved worldwide, I have to start with where I came from, where I am currently,” Burnside said. “And if you can’t see the policies that you want changed on a small scale, it cannot be nationwide. That’s simply just not how it works.”

On a statewide scale, some students want Kansas politicians to focus more on abortion laws, funding schools, the foster care system, and gun laws.

Lawrence Humane Society Kaila Burnside attended the design class at the Jayhawk Media Workshop hosted by the University of Kansas School of Journalism. (Lily O’Shea Becker/Kansas Reflector)

“No offense to the older generation, but there’s some things that people in office and in the government set out that need to be changed, like gun laws. … I don’t want to have to wake up and worry, like, am I gonna live the next day?” Riccardo said.

Houts said mass shootings have become a normalized part of life. 

“I really worry that It might happen in Lawrence sometime soon,” he said. “It might happen at my school, and I don’t want to be the next person, or have my friends be the next people to die.”

Riccardo said her vote matters because she wants to make sure there is someone in office who wants to help their community. 

Another value the interviewed students agreed on is that journalism is crucial to democracy and young journalists bring an important dynamic to that. 

Knutson said that although he is a high school journalist, he likes to associate his work with the “bigger picture.” He emphasized the importance of reporting not only on news that people want to hear, but also news that people need to hear. Knutson said he learned from the Native Storytelling panelists how important it is to listen to others, and he didn’t realize how underrepresented Native media is. 

“Young journalists are important to me because we’re really the voices of the future,” Reed said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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