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A high school yearbook group examines fairness and accuracy in news

The school has transitioned from an annual yearbook with sections like sports and activities to a year-long, magazine-type publication.
Posted at 5:16 PM, Jan 27, 2024

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Grandview High School students use their yearbook class as a place to focus on news literacy.

"We do chronological week-by-week coverage, which is fairly unique for a high school," said Kate Mullen, senior editor of the Grandview High School yearbook team.

The school has transitioned from an annual yearbook with sections like sports and activities, to a year-long magazine-type publication dedicated to covering nearly everything that happens in the school week-by-week with accuracy and fairness. The yearbook team is made up of more than 70 students. 

"We found that doing it chronologically allows us to cover more topics in our school and give each topic more depth," Mullen said.

"When kids open that book 30 years from now, they can see the whole year page by page," said Matt Varca, Grandview High School yearbook adviser.

The group said representation and diversity are a pinnacle part of their production. 

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"We try to represent every student at least three times in the book," said Zachary Muniz, sophomore co-editor of the yearbook.

"If we spell someone's name wrong or get a score wrong, it makes them feel like they weren't represented in our book and they were overlooked," Mullen said.

This year's yearbook theme is "Say Whaaat?" The theme "really encompasses what we're trying to accomplish by giving a voice and space in the book to every student. You want more than just their photo in the portrait section. Let's get them doing something," according to Varca.

It's a monumental challenge in a high school with roughly 3,000 students.

"Especially in a school this big where it's easy for kids to get lost," Varca said. "This year we're doing features on kids that make music … we have some girls that are playing hockey for the first time this year."

It's all happening in a world where outside influences, fake news and misinformation bombard kids regularly.

"Adolescents, their primary medium for information is TikTok," said Brad Sjostrom, director of behavioral health at Advent Health Porter Hospital. "And helping them decipher what's real and what isn't is challenging, but it comes down to having conversations."

Sjostrom is an expert in adolescent psychology and said kids are using smartphones and tablets at younger ages than ever before, which is why parents and teachers have a responsibility to help kids weed through fake and fiction.

"Reality is harder to decipher this day and age," Sjostrom said. "Helping them vet what's real and what isn't is important."

Take artificial intelligence, for example. AI is so sophisticated that you can make anyone look like they're saying anything.

"It looks 100% real, but it turns out it's all artificial intelligence and the original author doesn't even know it's being put out there in the world," Sjostrom said.

Sjostrom said the pandemic forced some students and adults to isolate and withdraw, which then led to higher screen time, often watching meaningless videos of sports, entertainment, and gossip.

"When you think about consuming media, there's junk food," he said. "Sometimes it's easier to go home and eat a bag of chips where you really should be eating a salad."

Inside the yearbook newsroom, students feel obligated to showcase all sides for the sake of the school, the students, and the parents.

"We want them to trust that we’re covering their kid accurately," Varca said.

"If we get things right, it makes the school feel unified," Mullen said.

This story was originally published by Russell Haythorn at Scripps News Denver