Editor's Note: The video version of this story will first air on Denver7 News at 10 on Tuesday, Jan. 25.
LOUISVILLE, Colo. — Inside Monarch High School in Louisville, senior Ethan Hendricks is leading the discussion on how to build the first school newscast of the new year around some very heavy topics a month after the Marshall Fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes in the area.
“So, you’re saying – as a media – you want us to capture everything, not just the people whose houses are gone?” Hendricks says during the discussion with other journalism students.
“Maybe we have a story that focuses on the first responders who worked really hard to get to that area, but there was nothing they could do and how that’s affecting them,” said another student.
High school news teams typically report on sports, student difference-makers and school happenings. But this year, Monarch has a very different and difficult assignment.
“Even if your house didn’t burn down, if you’re a part of the community in any way, it affected you,” said senior Erica Matthies.
“We want to be somewhere that the students at Monarch can turn to if they need information, you know, what's going on where they can go for help,” Hendricks said.
The Marshall Fire came within feet of the school. Recent drone video shows just how close.
The fire burned hundreds of homes to the ground just across the street from Monarch High along the Coal Creek Golf Course. Many students, teachers and staff members lost their homes.
“It impacts all of us directly,” Matthies said.
She heads up the yearbook team in the Monarch journalism program.
“There’s people pages and club pages,” Matthies said. “And there’s fire coverage. For the fire coverage, we are going to do a supplement, where the pages fold out.”
If any student journalism program is up to the challenge of reporting on the most catastrophic wildfire in Colorado history, it’s Monarch High, or what they call MOHI Media and Journalism, where they’ve won multiple awards in student media.
“With my journalism program, those students are doing real services for their community,” said Ben Reed, the journalism adviser for MOHI Media and Journalism. “And so, it's important for them to be able to make sure that what they're putting out there is accurate, it’s truthful and reflective of the needs of the students around them.”
It’s fitting to feature these kids this week, which is National News Literacy Week for Scripps, the parent company of Denver7 News.
“A lot of kids think that fake news just means the stuff that's just absolutely outlandish,” Reed said. “It’s really about being able to sort out — what can you trust versus what can't you trust?”
Monarch knows its Instagram feed and other platforms must always be reliable and accurate for a student population constantly consuming information.
“We want this Instagram (newscast) to really be a helpful thing for them to go see and watch and know where to go and get stuff,” Hendricks said. “I think that social media actually gives a lot of students a better way to get their information, because a lot of them aren't going to go home and watch the news. They're going to go home and look at their phone.”
“They all think that they know because they consume media on their phone nonstop,” Reed said. “But, the truth is many students can’t differentiate real from fake.”
This is a student program elevating itself to be a place of healing, hope and valuable, accurate information when it’s necessary.
“There’s a lot of history happening right now,” Matthies said. “We've covered COVID and now there's these fires, which is huge.”
“What they do is real,” Reed said. “What they do is impacting real lives.”
News literacy is an urgent and essential life skill for the 21st century. Credible, standards-based news outlets play an important role in helping citizens recognize what news and information to trust. National News Literacy Week, presented by the News Literacy Project and The E.W. Scripps Company, is Jan. 24-28. Learn how to get involved at NewsLiteracyWeek.org.