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The South Florida Roundup

Marjory Stoneman Douglas Student Journalists Reflect On Covering Shooting Two Years Later

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Brynn Anderson
/
AP
Manuel and Patricia Oliver, parents of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting victim Joaquin Oliver, hold hands as they speak to the media in Miami in 2018.

It's been two years since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

The tragedy that killed 17 people has changed daily life for many Floridians. School safety has taken up a lot of the conversation in Tallahassee. A state commission was even created to investigate the shooting. That group has proposed policies that aim to make schools safer -- including a program that allows some school staff to carry firearms.

 

Meanwhile, the path towards healing remains difficult for many in the MSD community. Some students have taken to activism against gun violence, others are taking action by continuing to be involved on campus.

The school newspaper and yearbook are documenting that reality in somewhat real time, often in intimate ways. On the South Florida Roundup, host Tom Hudson spoke with two MSD seniors: Brianna Fisher, editor-in-chief of the Eagle Eye newspaper (which received a special mention during the Pulitzer awards in 2019), and Caitlynn Tibbetts, editor-in-chief of the Aerie yearbook.

Here's an excerpt of their conversation:

TOM HUDSON: How are you planning coverage here on the second anniversary of the tragedy? 

BRIANNA FISHER: We publish four issues a year, so our third quarter issue is centered around the anniversary, trying to figure out mixing both anniversary coverage and what's happening at the school. Especially this week, it's been difficult trying to find reporters who want to cover what's going on, because a lot of people just kind of want to stay at home and not really do much.

It's hard to find that balance of sending people to go do interviews and to take pictures and to write stories, but still trying to be respectful of everyone else here healing. And at the same time, we're all healing. It's been a balance of figuring out what to do that's best for the community. 

HUDSON: Caitlin, how do you have those conversations for the yearbook where you have only one publication date and it's at the end of the year, of course, but you're responsible for capturing an entire school year? 

CAITLYNN TIBBETTS: It's definitely hard because we're covering from summer all the way to mid-March. So we have to spread out any coverage that deals with the shooting, whether that's the anniversary or not, throughout the book. In that way, it's not just loaded into just a few five to 10 [page] spreads because it's something that we're dealing with throughout the entire year, not just in February.

And as editor-in-chief, it's my responsibility to tell photographers where they're supposed to be going, but also understand that the majority of our photography staff is healing as well. They're not wanting to always have to go out of their way to do something that might hurt them. Our photographers, who are freshmen and sophomores, who weren't there that day or weren't a student at all, who are willing to help us cover anything that might hurt any of the other photographers mentally.

HUDSON: How do you have those conversations with the staff as they are dedicated to capturing this year? I imagine it's got to be an active and ongoing conversation, right? 

TIBBETTS: It definitely is. At the beginning of this year, with accepting new staff members who weren't there the year of the shooting, we had to have that conversation, which was, way beyond needed about the differences between people who were there that day and people who weren't there.

It was a big elephant in the room for about two months, but we had to address it and say, this yearbook means so much to us because we have to keep covering the anniversary. As much as it may suck or as much as some people might not feel the same way about it or understand what we're going through, it is still their duty to design these spreads or go to events or to write about them, because this is what we're dealing with right now.

It's important to have this sort of open communication with everyone. At the same time, we're humans and we're still going through things, and we understand that if something becomes too much, we can take a step back. 

Alexander Gonzalez produces the afternoon newscasts airing during All Things Considered. He enjoys helping tell the South Florida story through audio and digital platforms. Alex is interested in a little of everything from business to culture to politics.
In a journalism career covering news from high global finance to neighborhood infrastructure, Tom Hudson is the Vice President of News and Special Correspondent for WLRN. He hosts and produces the Sunshine Economy and anchors the Florida Roundup in addition to leading the organization's news engagement strategy.