Practicing my craft ethically is a vital part of continuing to influence others. After all, it is difficult to trust someone you don’t believe is morally sound. One way this is carried out is through following the West Side Story staff editorial policy. As a member of the editorial board, this is crucial to maintaining respect for our publication.
According to the policy, “The goals of West Side Story are to inform, entertain and educate its readers; to provide a forum for the Iowa City community to express attitudes and opinions; to provide an educational opportunity for both the students who produce West Side Story and those who read it; and to provide a medium for commercial messages.”
To see the full policy, visit the West Side Story website here.
Behind the story:
During my first year on staff, I was eager to take on any assignment that came my way. So when a classmate of mine passed away due to a heart condition, I immediately volunteered to write a piece honoring his memory. Covering Peyton Hayes’ passing was one of the most difficult stories in my high school career. Losing a loved one is a taxing, unparalleled tragedy, meaning I needed to carry out interviews as carefully as possible. Out of the tears came a memoir for the Hayes family to cherish in years to come.
My questions to secondary sources were as follows:
- How did you know Peyton?
- How would you describe Peyton as a person?
- How did Peyton contribute to the West atmosphere in terms of making the school a better place?
- What do you miss most about him?
- What message do you personally believe you learned from Peyton?
- What would you say is the best way for West students to honor him and his life?
This was published in the print edition of the West Side Story on Nov. 4, 2017.
“Hearts for Hayes”
A golfer. A video gamer. A brother. A son. A friend.
Throughout his life, Peyton Hayes embodied all of these characteristics and more, and his legacy will live on in the hearts and minds of the West community for years to come.
On Wednesday September 21, West sophomore Peyton Hayes passed away due to complications from a congenital heart defect, a difficulty he had faced his entire life. Though this was a struggle he endured every day, he never allowed it to defeat his cheerful demeanor.
“He was truly happy-go-lucky all the time,” said Darrin Hayes, Peyton’s father. “He never complained, he always liked to hang around people, he really didn’t value money or, you know, materialistic items. He just truly liked to be around his family and friends.”
Peyton has left a strong impact on the West community, as students and teachers alike mourn his passing and reminisce about good times shared with him. Katy Nahra, English teacher, had Peyton as a student during his freshman year.
“I’d say that Peyton is someone we should all strive to be more like,” Nahra said. “Peyton put his whole heart and soul into everything he did and made the best of every day. He made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. West is a better place because of Peyton, and I’m a better person for having him in my life.”
One key quality of Peyton’s was his uniqueness and his confidence to be who he was without allowing what others thought to determine who he was.
“I think that he taught everyone that being different wasn’t a bad thing, and that you should try to stand out and be different,” said Guinevere Eilderts ‘20, a friend of Peyton’s. “He was always shorter [than] anyone, but that didn’t stop him from doing anything. He wasn’t afraid of people judging him, and he made West a better place just by being himself 24/7.”
Shannon Nock, attendance secretary, spent a great deal of time with Peyton as well, as he ran passes for the attendance office every day.
“I remember the very first day I met him,” Nock said. “Amy Kanellis, one of our guidance counselors, had told me about this kid who had the most amazing attitude. She said, ‘He has a heart condition, but you will never once hear him complain.’ I immediately thought that I needed to meet him. From my very first interactions with him, I knew he was not like most kids. I knew that he was something special.”
Hayes will especially be remembered for his animated interactions with others and the little, quirky things he did to brighten another person’s day.
“One day we got into a long discussion about which flavor [of Jolly Ranchers] was the best,” Nock said. “I have always hated blue candy, [but] Peyton said that the blue candy was his favorite. So from that day on, I would save all the blue Jolly Ranchers just for him. I don’t think I will ever look at another blue Jolly Rancher without thinking of Peyton and remembering his smile.”
Eilderts also admired Peyton’s charismatic personality and his ability to exude kindness around others, no matter what he was going through personally.
“He was very inspiring and creative,” she said. “I feel like everywhere he went, he just made everyone around him smile. He would always say little things that would make my whole day, stuff like, ‘You look pretty,’ and other little compliments. He probably didn’t even think twice about saying those things but they made me happy … and he always put a smile on my face.”
The Hayes family is still recovering from this heartbreaking loss but has been able to rely on support from those close to them to get through these tough times.
“As anybody probably would [cope], there are days that are pretty good and there are days that suck pretty bad,” Darrin said, his voice breaking. “But we’ve got an incredible support network with friends and family, and everybody’s been doing their best to give us support. We’ve kind of discussed that we’ll never move on, but we’ll move forward.”
In terms of Peyton and his legacy, the Hayes family hopes for West students to be more considerate of others in order to best honor Peyton.
“Have a little more patience with everybody,” Darrin advised. “You never know what’s going on in somebody else’s life and pay it forward. Somebody gives you a smile, somebody holds the door, they may seem like little things, but those were big things to Peyton. If people at West can continue to do that, maybe make the hallway a little brighter or make your friend’s or teacher’s day a little brighter, then you’ve honored him the best you can.”
When West High alumna Shirley Wang’s podcast on her father’s touching friendship with Charles Barkley went viral on Dec. 15, 2018, I reached out and asked to interview her for a West Side Story article. I interviewed Shirley and her brother Mason at their home shortly after the whole ordeal began. However, because Shirley’s father had passed away, I attempted to once again interview carefully and thoughtfully. Throughout the conversation and later that night, Shirley made note of certain details or points she wished not to have brought up, for the sake of privacy. Due to the sensitive nature of her story, I obliged.
This is what Shirley had to say about the experience:
“I was so impressed by her intuition to ask interesting questions and her genuine curiosity about the topic. Our conversation energized me in new ways. She was extremely prepared and seemed to have read much more than the other reporters who have interviewed me, showing a wide range of knowledge about my work experience and social media. She thought to include my brother and my coworkers in the article and was very considerate to people who meant a lot to me. During the interview, there were some things I said and did not wish to include and Anjali was very kind about my privacy. The resulting article wove together fragmented details and thoughts into a coherent, compelling story. She accurately, holistically and thoughtfully represented me and my family. I highly recommend her for journalist of the year.”
To see the full story, visit the “Writing – Feature” category.
Keeping sources safe
While writing a story on both legal and illegal immigrants, a student source expressed multiple concerns regarding the content in the story and any legal implications it could have for her. Throughout the process, I discussed story matter with her parents and received consult from a local immigration lawyer, Jessica Malott in order to determine how best to proceed. Ms. Malott provided insight throughout the article and outlined the United States immigration process so I could translate this information into a readable manner for high school students.
This is what the student, Pareen Mhatre, had to say about the experience:
“Being interviewed for “Hidden Among Us” was one of the most important events of my life, to date, as I have been quiet about my story up to that point. I was very worried about what information I could disclose to Anjali, how my story would be perceived by the audience, and if my story would be written in the most accurate and informative way possible. When I was first interviewed by Anjali, she made me feel comfortable in the environment, asked me important questions about my story up until she exported the story, and if I felt uncomfortable about a certain fact being in the story, she respected my wishes and did not include it in the article. Being a source for the article allowed me to not only put my story into words, but it also enabled me to see Anjali’s passion for the topic and her dedication to the story and her sources as a journalist. I wouldn’t change my experience with Anjali because she executed everything so perfectly and the article is something I will treasure for a long time.”
To see the full story, visit the “Writing – Feature” category.