Wilton may be far from the front lines of the drug war, but following the publication of an opinion piece by our student contributor, Caroline Wilson, about her reaction and views following the canine drug search at Wilton High School, both she and GOOD Morning Wilton came under fire, mostly from students readers.
In fact, it was interesting that the responses we got generally fell into two camps split along age lines. Parents roundly applauded Wilson’s commentary, lauding her as ‘brave’ for stepping forward and writing about the issue of drugs and alcohol use among teens at WHS. The teens, however, took to GMW’s Facebook page to criticize what she wrote, and at times, Wilson herself.
They objected to what they viewed in the piece as a blanket indictment of all WHS students, with many feeling it painted a picture that maligned the whole student body–that it implied they all use drugs, all the time, all over school. Several disagreed with the author’s assertions about where in school drug use happens and adamantly said they couldn’t be true. Some commenters were accusatory, and a few exceeded the limits of the types of comments we allow to stay on any GMW discussion forum. There were several comments from both supporters and detractors of the author that were deleted for that reason.
As a publication that is openly available to all, but predominantly targeted to Wilton adults, it’s a great reminder to us of how important it is to better anticipate how teens will perceive and react to a published piece like this, especially one about them and so hot-button as well. We tried to allow a little leeway with comments so the discussion could unfold. It was upsetting when the criticism took the form of attacks on the writer or on other readers. We appeal to all participants in the conversation–adults and teens alike–to take the higher road and refrain from mean-spirited, bullying comments.
Whether or not you agree with her viewpoint or her experience, Wilson is a courageous, good writer, who took on a dicey topic without shying away. She wrote about her experience, and those are her views in the article. Her thesis was, is, and always has been the same from the start: While the district is putting a good deal of effort at making sure WHS is drug free, the school isn’t free of drugs and it isn’t perfect. Does EVERYONE do drugs? No. Do the majority of students do drugs or drink? Unlikely. But one almost completely clean drug sweep isn’t an accurate picture of Wilton High School either. There are students who use drugs, who sell drugs (and have done both in school), and who drink, sometimes while at school. Having the conversation about it at school is great; it also should take place at home, between students and their parents. Unfortunately that important message got lost in the fallout after the story made the rounds.
Quite honestly, it was a GOOD thing that the kids got upset when they felt the column unfairly painted ALL students in a certain way. Maybe, because the prevailing kind of student that exists in Wilton is one who is hardworking, bright, involved in athletics and extracurriculars and the arts, I took it for granted that readers would implicitly understand the story didn’t refer to everyone. Wilton kids are proud of their efforts and hard work and should be. They should defend that. I know it wasn’t the writer’s intent to describe an opposite picture, nor did I read it that way when I reviewed and edited it. Perhaps because of discussions Wilson and I had about the subject before publishing it, it was understood between us that whatever incidents she saw were not the norm. What got lost between writing, editing and hitting ‘publish’ was making sure that fact was clear to readers as well.
That error falls on the shoulders of GMW, not the writer, and it’s a lesson learned. It wasn’t Wilson’s intent to describe the behaviors as normal, everyday or widespread. The piece could have benefitted from another draft to make sure that was clearer. While it was clearly labeled as an opinion piece in the editor’s intro note, it should have also been labeled as such in the headline, as one reader suggested.
It also should have included an editor’s note about anonymous sources and why we allowed Wilson to rely on them. The topic is highly sensitive and controversial, made even clearer since the column hit the site Monday morning. We knew that students wouldn’t share their true opinions or stories if we insisted on using their names; we also wouldn’t reprint snapchat screenshots, as someone suggested, for obvious legal reasons. We should have explained why we allowed Wilson to write that way. In hindsight, we should have done that differently.
Let’s also not fool ourselves by saying, “There are bigger issues to worry about,” as some of the critics tried to suggest, or that GOOD Morning Wilton strayed from a promise to only cover the good news in town, or specifically at WHS. There are kids in Wilton and at WHS who use drugs, who drink, who are making poor choices that put them in harm’s way. Just look at statistics and anecdotes about heroin use–and deaths–among young adults and you’ll know Wilton is not immune.
Our hope is that by publishing such stories, we encourage the conversations, even the difficult ones, in a way to help make the good parts of Wilton stronger and the town overall even better. On this one, there are lessons we’ve learned where we could had done it better ourselves. We promise to keep trying and to do better each time.
Heather Borden Herve is the editor and founder of GOOD Morning Wilton.