Co-editor-in-chief Ethan Brown (top) works to improve Echo’s front page before publishing night with co-editor-in-chief Maggie Bahnson (left) and adviser Lori Keekley (right) as news editor Mimi Fhima (bottom) listens to advice and discusses changes being suggested by Bahnson, Brown and Keekley.

Ethan Brown, co-editor-in-chief of the Echo at St. Louis Park High School is the Minnesota High School Journalist of the Year. Brown’s adviser Lori Keekley said in her recommendation letter Brown’s dedication to empowering student voices is what sets him apart.

Brown put his leadership skills to the test this year when the Echo staff covered an incident where a senior boy allegedly pulled a hijab from a freshman girl. Brown and his staff took immediate action to cover the story. They also covered the racial climate forum that happened as a result of the incident the following day.

The Echo’s staff coverage was published online as soon as their reporting was complete. During their work, the student journalists learned that the school did not follow the guidelines it set forth in the student handbook. Keekley said, “They not only wrote about the violation when the situation was mediated, but also contacted other agencies including the ACLU to find out why mediation shouldn’t be used in this type of infraction. Many Somali students commented to Echo staffers (and me) concerning how much they appreciated the coverage and quest for the truth.”

Keekley said Brown has also grown in his understanding of the First Amendment and that it doesn’t just apply to the views he supports. Keekley wrote, “After an incident in which a conservative opinion columnist who wrote about the ridiculousness of protesting President Trump received threats, Ethan immediately reiterated to the staff that conservative opinions are welcome—and needed. Although he doesn’t agree with the columnist’s view, he empowers her voice.”

Brown’s work as an editor and writer has led his staff to cover important issues that affect the student body, such as an instance of active tuberculosis at the high school, Somali and Latino student reaction to the president’s travel ban, and the lack of suspension after a bloody fight happened at the high school.

Brown has also been working on behalf of the Minnesota New Voices Act. On Presidents Day, he spent time at the Capitol with Keekley promoting the New Voices House bill, which was introduced that day. Brown’s input on how his journalism experience helps with civic engagement may be what helps gain Republican house support and eventually helps pass the bill.

In his letter of application, Brown wrote, “The hijab incident showed me the impact I cold have on my immediate community as a journalist, but also taught me the importance of continuous development as a journalist. The issue and my subsequent coverage on it gave a voice to those on multiple sides who often had none.”

Journalism Education Association Minnesota State Director Laurie Hansen coordinated the JOY contest. “Joy judges were impressed with the high level of professionalism in Ethan’s work as an editor and writer,” Hansen said. “They felt they were looking at a working journalist’s portfolio rather than a student, and I had to gently remind the judges, these students are working journalists. They may not be drawing salaries, but what students like Ethan do for their schools is just as important as a paid professional.”