Why we’re doing this
Hi! We’re student trainers for The Trace, and we want to talk to you about an important project.
Gun violence is an issue we can’t ignore.
The fact is, gunfire kills more than 1,300 children per year. That’s right — 1,300. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it’s the third leading cause of death for Americans our age, more than birth defects, car accidents or the flu.
Guns are not only a social issue, but the story of our generation. As a student reporter for The Trace, you can help tell it.
Sign up for this project, and you’ll learn how to write short stories called obituaries about students killed by guns. Using data from the Gun Violence Archive, you’ll research and write an obituary about another young person fatally shot in the past year.
The goal of this project is to humanize victims by telling how they lived, not only how they died. So we’ll also search local newspapers, police reports, memorial websites and social media to get a bigger picture of the victims as peers and as people. We aim to tell the whole story.
Gun violence is a story we share. Those who die and those who don’t can be the same age. We live in the same cities, we go to the same schools. We’re dancers, football players, drama club members and scientific geniuses. We’re students.
And, as students, we have the power to tell the stories that others can’t finish.
So please join the Trace project. This issue needs your voice.
—Allie Kelly, Denver East High School, Denver, and Joe Meyerson, Pacific Palisades High School, Los Angeles
What is this project all about?
The Trace, in partnership with a national media organization, is working with journalism students nationwide to help young people document the toll of gun violence on the lives of other young people. After a 2017-18 school year that saw hundreds of children and teens shot in places such as Chicago; St. Louis; Philadelphia; Flint, Michigan; Palmdale, California and Parkland, Florida, we want to tell this story told in the only way that makes sense now — from the perspective of young people who see the toll gun violence takes on their schools, communities, cities and lives. To that end, we’re seeking students who will work with us during the 2018-19 school year to produce short obituaries for young Americans killed by gun violence. The project is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2019.
Who can join this project?
If you’re a high school student attending school in the United States between the ages of 14 and 18, you’re eligible to join this project. You don’t have to belong to a journalism class or club at your school, although the journalism skills you have or will learn through this project will be helpful to the work you do.
Will I get paid?
Yes! Students who work with us will receive a generous stipend.
How do I join?
All student journalist participants need to sign and return to us three documents: Your Student-Parent/Guardian Volunteer Agreement, your Child Protection Policy and a W-9 IRS tax information form (for payment). The Contract is how you will give permission for your work to be published by Trace and for us to collect information such as your email and age. The Child Protection Policy tells you what your rights and our responsibilities are as we work together. The W-9 allows us to pay you; scan back page 1 only. For Question 3, most of our student journalists check “individual.”
Note: We cannot give you assignments until we receive ALL of these documents. Please submit them by clicking “Join now” and filling out the form.
What exactly will I be researching and writing? What’s the purpose?
Each student in this project will write a 100-word obituary for an American child or teen who was fatally shot using information from the GVA, plus research including digital memorials, news websites, social media and additional primary reporting. For each story, we also require a six-word story that tells this short obituary even more briefly, so that we can communicate the gist of what you’ve written. For this, our example is the six-word story written by the novelist Ernest Hemingway: “For sale, baby shoes. Never worn.” Just six words, but it’s clear that a baby died, a family is coping and a tragedy took place. As to purpose: We simply want to document the toll of gun violence on American youth, using fact-based reporting, the power of observation and student writing. Because this is a journalism project, we avoid using words like “honoring” or “memorializing” gun violence victims. Instead, we want to tell the life story of the person who died, using all of the personal details that we can find and that a family and a community would remember and miss after that person is gone.
What’s the time commitment? What is your deadline? What do you expect from me?
The amount of time required to research and write the short obituary story will vary depending on the type of incident, the information available and your own skills. However, most of our student journalists to date have been able to complete their stories in one to two hours. We ask that all students complete two-three stories at least in order to understand what the project is about and to develop lasting skills. We expect you to submit your story within two weeks of selecting your link. Links that are not completed within this period may be reassigned to another student.
Yikes — I’m going to need help researching and/or writing my story. How will you support me?
No worries — we have you covered three ways:
- Our online student resources (see below) include a training deck, webinar videos, checklists and a student reporting guide, all of which have tips, examples and step-by-step instructions on doing your story.
- Regular webinars with senior editors and Trace student trainers (see below) will help you get started and give you a chance to ask questions as you develop your story.
- Our Trace student trainers can give you a peer assist if and when you get stuck — just ask your senior editor to connect you. You can also contact us at the emails below for technical or editorial issues.
What happens after I submit my stories? What can I expect from you?
We’ll edit and prepare your story for publication, which can mean a wait of several weeks as we edit, fact check and copy edit your piece. Please be sure to answer your editors’ questions as we do this important work. When editing is complete, we’ll ask you to fill out a student invoice for your stipend. Students can do up to 15 stories for publication though most will do at least three. We hope to build a nationwide corps of reporters to do just that.
For Student Reporters
- “Tracing America’s Gun Stories” step-by-step project guide
- VIDEO: “Getting Started” webinar
- “How to Write the Trace Summary Obituary”
- “Elevate Your Writing: The Poetry of the Obituary”
- Student Writer’s Checklist
- Student Reporting Guide
- Project Style Guide
- Attend a Virtual Wellness Session
- “Collecting Life Stories: Portraits of Grief” — a lesson in short-form obituary writing based on The New York Times’ 9/11 coverage
- “Writing the Short Obituary” — students read, learn and discuss elements of the traditional obituary
- “How to Write the Trace Summary Obituary” — identifying key details, summarizing and writing an obituary based on a published news report.
Meet the Editorial Team
Akoto Ofori-Atta, project director, senior editor at The Trace.
Beatrice Motamedi, senior project editor, curriculum designer.
Katina Paron, senior project editor.
Roxanne L. Scott, senior project editor.
Leonor Mamanna, photo editor.
Allegra Cullen, assistant project editor.
Bianca Fortis, assistant project editor.
Camille Respess, assistant project editor.
Helina Selemon, assistant project editor.
Hannah Jannol, senior project reporter.
Matthew Asuncion, senior project reporter.
Allie Kelly, assistant project editor.
Joe Meyerson, assistant project editor.
JJ Hennessy, assistant project editor.
Mayra Ortiz-Paige, project administrator, newsroom operations coordinator for The Trace.
Questions? Get in touch.
For technical issues, email [email protected].
For resource/curriculum issues, email Beatrice Motamedi, senior project editor, at [email protected].