8 Questions for Francesca Di Cristofano

December 14, 2018
TAKING THE LEAD Pelham Examiner is a news site owned and run by students.
COURTESY FRANCESCA DI CRISTOFANO

When a local newspaper in Pelham, New York, shut down in the spring of 2018, a group of student journalists started their own news site, Pelham Examiner. TFK’s Brian S. McGrath spoke with the managing editor, high school senior Francesca Di Cristofano, about the challenges and rewards of running a news site.

1. How did the Examiner get started?

When I was in 10th grade, I was senior editor of the Youth Beat section of a local paper called News of Pelham. When that paper shut down this past spring, we had a group of young journalists who wanted to continue reporting. So we decided to start our own news site.

2. How many students write for the Examiner?

We have 30 writers on staff. Our youngest reporter is in the sixth grade.

3. What sets the Examiner apart from other news sources in Pelham?

We are unique in that we publish between one and three stories every day. We cover features and local sports faster than any other source. Most important, we are free and nonprofit. Our staff is doing this because they love it and because they want to serve the public good.

4. Why is a site covering local news important?

In a democracy, it is important to have reliable news for starting discussions. Because of our site, people are beginning to recognize problems in our town and move toward solving them.

5. What’s one story that only the Examiner covered?

We published an opinion piece on banning plastic straws in Pelham, an issue young people in town have been talking about. Another was a feature on the Pelham Boy Scouts accepting female scouts for the first time. These were big changes that we needed to share with the public.

6. How do people in your town feel about kids reporting the news?

People have been surprised. They say the writing seems like it’s done by adults working in the news business. But there has also been negative feedback. Once, we were accused of bias in our political reporting. We have triggered debates about race and mental health issues. But that’s how a real newspaper functions.

7. What have you learned from being a news editor?

In the end, you need to stick to your principles. You have a responsibility to give an unbiased report that abides by your philosophy. At the Examiner, we are not afraid to identify the issues that affect our town. We consciously strive to be fearless in what we publish.

8. Any advice you would offer budding journalists?

Get experience writing! You need to learn what questions to ask, and you can only learn that by experience. You just have to go out and do it.

Stop & Think! What is bias? Why is it important for a news source to be unbiased? How can readers detect bias in reporting?