March 15, 2018 / 9:14 PM / a year ago

Finding alternative viewpoints as U.S. students protest

New York - At Colorado’s Columbine High School, where 15 people were killed in 1999, about 250 students walked out of class for 17 minutes at 10 a.m. local time on March 14.

Columbine High School student Leah Zunder holds a sign during a National School Walkout to honor the 17 students and staff members killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in Littleton, Colorado, U.S. March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

They were among tens of thousands of students from more than 3,000 U.S. schools demonstrating in the #ENOUGH National Walkout Day, prompted by last month’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The protests ran at least 17 minutes, one minute for each person killed at the school.

Columbine survivor Evan Todd did not participate. Instead, he told Reuters that restricting gun rights would not stop shootings. He said school staff should be allowed to bring firearms onto school grounds with a legal permit to add another level of security.

“It’s maddening that students are left as sitting ducks” in the classroom without protection, said Todd, 34, who was a sophomore when he was wounded in the Columbine shooting.

Covering a national event across four time zones is a test of resources and coordination.

Another challenge was presenting a diverse and balanced view of the coast-to-coast protests that often lasted less than 20 minutes.

“On a day we knew would be filled with passion and high emotions, we wanted to make sure we were including views from across the political spectrum, different geographies and demographics,” said U.S. General News editor Dina Kyriakidou Contini. “It was a logistical challenge, for sure. But it was important to give readers an accurate and balanced picture of the events.”

While the common goal shared by most of Wednesday’s protesters was to pressure federal and state lawmakers to tighten laws on gun ownership, Reuters also sought alternative opinions on gun control.

Our journalists fanned out across the country, including Los Angeles, Washington, and Parkland, Florida, to cover demonstrations and views on both sides of the issue.

Throughout the day, Kimberly Palmer, a Reuters freelance reporter in Cleveland, kept tabs on principals, administrators, parents and organizers, looking for elements that transcended the emotional side of the protests, Palmer said.

At Norton High School in Ohio, for example, Palmer found students displaying an American flag as well as flags bearing President Donald Trump’s name among nearly 300 students who walked out of class.

The Reuters general news team also monitored social media for counter-demonstrations. At Vero Beach High School, about 80 miles (129 km) north of Parkland, chants of “No More Silence, end gun violence,” were met with shouts of “Trump!” and “We want guns” from other students. The information came from a video posted by local newspaper TCPalm and was included in our coverage of the day's events.

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Reporting by Lauren Young; Editing by Toni Reinhold

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