Laws and Ethics
The Struggles of Learning a New Language
Her first step off of Puerto Rican soil was a step on to her first airplane. She was just 12, and nervous. She followed her mother the whole way, doing exactly as she was told.
Her step-dad was a mailman in the States. He lived in a small apartment in Tampa, and when she and the rest of her family joined him, she would take the couch every night for a year.
For two weeks, things were new and exciting. But on her first day of sixth grade, because she spoke only Spanish, she didn’t know where to go. In Puerto Rico, there is one teacher the class follows. Now, she was expected to move between classes alone. She tried talking to her teacher, but she felt like she was speaking an alien language.
Finally, the teacher sent her to the office, where she joined a class for Spanish speakers. It wasn’t easier. The rest of the students were at least a little bilingual. Compared to them, she knew nothing.
She became depressed, isolating herself. Her mom's attempts to make the family feel more American by cooking macaroni and cheese for dinner didn’t cheer her up. She took to drawing, instead of trying to understand. Even though she didn’t show anyone, she felt like drawing allowed her to express what she felt.
She started drawing for the first time in Puerto Rico, when she had a disease called Vasculitis and had to stay in the hospital for three months. She asked for a white piece of paper and started drawing the things she saw when she walked down the hallways. She felt lonely with no one to talk to except the nurses. She felt lonelier in her 6th grade classroom with no one to talk to at all.
In 7th grade, things started to change. She was placed with a teacher who spoke fluent Spanish, Ms.Galindo, who expressed how important it was to be able to interact with people around you.
She stepped out of her comfort zone, trying to communicate with her classmates. That is how she met her best friend.
She also started studying for her classes in English. For hours each day, she studied flashcards she made carefully using only English words for the classes she found the most difficult, like history. When her younger brother noticed, he asked if he could study, too. They practiced, flipping over flashcards, challenging each other to speak in English.
Now a senior, she’s still trying to improve her English. She used to dread going with her mother to the grocery store, but now she sees it as a chance to practice. She laughs, talking about how her youngest brother speaks English better than all of them, with an American accent, too. But ultimately, she can communicate nearly fluently, pausing only occasionally to translate words on her phone.
This story was published in the US magazine, one of only two stories without a photo. The subject requested to story anonymous despite her journey being from a United States territory, and her story showing only resilience and strength. She didn't want everyone to know her name, so I included her art as the portrait and requested her wishes while still publishing her inspiring story
Erica Johnson, The Non Existent Bus Driver
As editor of the student newspaper, I made my rounds during journalism class, checking up on people as they worked on their profiles for the upcoming Us Magazine.
In the corner, far away from the rest of the class, Traeshan sat in his usual spot, looking at the desktop in front of him. Word was open. “Erica Johnson is a bus driver. She likes the relaxation it is to be driving, but when the kids are too loud she is upset.”
Since I met Traeshan, he had probably said no more than three unprompted words to me. I knew he was more than shy, something bordering on extreme social anxiety. But he joined journalism for some reason, and I knew how happy I was when my first piece was published, so I made it my goal to help him create a publishable story. We started with coming up with questions. “What would you want to know about the life of a bus driver?” I asked. And by the end of the period, we had come up with 15 strong questions for him to ask.
He turned his story in. I brought my camera to the bus ramp, climbed onto the bus and asked the woman upfront if she was Erica Johnson. She wasn’t. She wasn’t interviewed either.
I thanked her and got off the bus.
I felt so stupid at that moment. I had worked with him on his story and didn’t realize it was completely made up. I was angry too, about all the time I had wasted, but especially that I worked so hard to get everyone a published piece in the magazine, and that would be impossible for him now.
Traeshan admitted falsifying his story and stayed silent while I explained the severity of his actions, how lucky everyone is that it was caught, and what could have happened if it wasn’t.
He remained in the class for the rest of the year, working on unpublished movie reviews I helped him with every now and then.
A true story I wrote for a college application about my experience with journalism ethics
Dealing with sensitive topics
The principal at the time did not want us to write this story, but he was not the the kind to ever censor us. I believed, and my advisor agreed, that it was important to cover, so I spoke to the principal, looked at the police reports, talked to students who were there and did my best to cover all the sides, to be informative and direct. I didn't quote students in order to avoid getting them in trouble for speculation and to get to the point without being dramatic.
Avoiding issues with copyright: Graphics
To avoid issues with copyright, the first option is to take our own photos of what we are covering. If that isn't an option, we make graphics. The last resort is to use Creative Commons. I taught myself how to make graphics when I became editor. I'm not great at it, but its relaxing sometimes. Above, I made a graphic of Dua Lipa to go along with my story about Tiny Desk Concerts.