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Investigative feature on teen profiling earns top prize in annual Student Impact Award competition

After hearing numerous reports that local police were stopping teens without probable cause, reporters Benjamin Breuner and Michael Weinstein of the Redwood Bark student newspaper decided to investigate.  The reporters, students at Redwood High School in Larkspur, Calif, found that Marin County police arrest teenagers for misdemeanors at a rate far higher than adults and teens in other parts of the Bay Area.

After gathering local statistics as well as stats from the California Department of Justice, reporters Breuner and Weinstein interviewed local police personnel, the ACLU, a district attorney, a youth criminal lawyer, a psychologist serving adolescents and numerous others. The results of their investigation turned into a five-page spread in the Bark. Articles, sidebars, graphs and anecdotes included: Targeting Teens:  Evidence points towards age profiling; Understanding teen rights; Marin teens face high arrest rates; the Police Perspective— Cops concerned with safety, say teens treated fairly; and Limits on adolescents may not be justified.

Following publication, the articles generated considerable comment in Marin County and the greater Bay Area. From PTAs to police departments the well researched articles became a topic of conversation. The articles validated an issue that had been under publicized. The San Francisco Chronicle picked up the story as did a local paper and ABC TV. Local elected officials and police departments examined their practices and arrest records. And finally, the Marin County Grand Jury looked into profiling of teenagers by the police.

In announcing the 2011 winner of the Journalism Education Association’s Student Journalist Impact Award, the association praised the reporting of the Redwood Bark  staff. “The paper illustrates the power of the student press and the impact it can have,” said Kenson Siver, chair of the Impact Award panel. “The articles were not written to sensationalize or blame, but rather to inform and bring to light a practice that was disproportionally affecting teens.”

The Redwood Bark is the 14th recipient of this award and will receive a $1000 cash prize. The JEA Student Journalist Impact Award was created in 1993 to recognize a secondary school student or team of students who, through the study and practice of journalism, have made a significant difference in their own lives, the lives of others, the school they attend and/or the community in which they reside. The Impact Award recognizes student writing that brings issues to the forefront and from the walls of the high school to the world at large. The award will be presented at the JEA Spring Convention in Anaheim, Calif, April 14-17.

The JEA Impact Award is made possible by a grant from the Kalos Kagathos Foundation of Laguna Beach, Calif.  Founded in the 1950s as a private, non-profit, family foundation administered by Bruce S. Hopping, the Kalos Kagathos Foundation fosters the ancient Greek philosophy of education — the integration of mind, body and spirit.  “Physical distinction, nobility of mind” is its credo.

For further information, contact JEA Impact Award Chair Kenson Siver, in care of Southfield Public Schools, 24661 Lahser Road, Southfield, MI  48033; (248) 746-8565.

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