Letter to the Editors from Students in Waterford, CT

A few months ago, Newsela received the following letter from a religious school in Waterford, Connecticut.

Dear Newsela Staff,

We are in 8th grade at a religious school. We use your website to learn about world news.

It has come to our attention that there is a strong bias toward covering the terrorist attacks in France as opposed to covering the Boko Haram attacks in Nigeria. We noticed that the only articles on Nigeria did not apply to the current Nigerian situation (i.e. Ebola and Malala). We feel that the Boko Haram attacks are equally as newsworthy as the attacks in France.

Even though Nigeria is not as relatable to your readers as France, it is still important to educate. Furthermore, more than 100 times the amount of people killed in France have been killed in Nigeria by Boko Haram. We feel that the amount of coverage about the killings in France are contributing to the American view of Islam that everyone is an extremist who is anti West. In fact, the killings in Nigeria were politically fueled and many of the victims were Muslim. Why do you mainly portray Muslims as extremists and attackers?

In conclusion, we believe that the Nigerian massacre should be covered as well as the French attacks.

We hope to hear from you.

Sincerely,

8th Grade Religious School Class; Waterford, CT

We were surprised to hear of a class asking us to cover violent stories about war and bloodshed (which many of our students deem scary), but intrigued by the letter and the students’ desire for equality in our coverage of world issues. We decided to craft the following response to the class, which reveals a lot about how editorial decision-making works at Newsela.

Dear 8th Grade Religious School Class,

Thanks so much for writing Newsela with your thoughts. I cannot tell you how much we love to hear from the students who read articles on our site. In particular, I was really interested in your perspective on our decision to run more stories on the terrorist attacks in France than the attacks in Nigeria.

We take tremendous care at Newsela to select articles that broaden our students’ world view while they improve their reading. Because of this, we’ll often run stories that are not usually seen as stories that are “for kids.” We’ve done stories on Syria, on child soldiers in Africa and on many other challenging, but important, issues.

While reading both the stories about the attacks in France and the Boko Haram attacks, I was personally heartbroken by all of the killings. However, while the terrorist attack in Paris was terrifying, the stories we found on Charlie Hebdo were much less gruesome than the ones about the killings in Nigeria. Many students your age would be haunted by hearing of thousands being killed. Many teachers who aren’t Ms. Levinsky would be writing to Newsela and complaining that these stories are too scary for their students and that their students shouldn’t have to see these things.

With the Charlie Hebdo attacks, we were able to find stories that asked questions about freedom of speech. With the Nigeria attacks, all the stories seemed to be about the senseless slaughter of thousands of people.

I was surprised but happy to hear that your class was compassionate and well-informed enough to care about this editorial decision. We are often faced with difficult choices when deciding which articles will make our students more worldly and which ones will just be too depressing or scary. This is particularly challenging when you realize we have students as young as 8 and as old as 18 looking at our website.

I hope this letter helps you understand better why we didn’t run stories about the Boko Haram attacks. Your letter will certainly affect the way I choose stories in the future.

Thanks again for taking the time to write to us.

Newsela Editorial Team