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Creating conversation through journalism

By Yasmeen Saadi

McKenzie Zobrist describes herself as a “go-getter”: someone who strives to find solutions to the problems around her, no matter how impossible solving those problems may seem.

Zobrist is one of only 600 students who attend Mariemont High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. The public school is centered in a small community and, therefore, does not receive many students. In her close-knit community, a problem Zobrist often witnesses among her peers is cultural ignorance.

“We’re kind of known for having that ‘bubble’ where kids aren’t exposed to diversity or other outside cultures,” Zobrist said. “I want to take the world and put it in front of their faces and be like, ‘Listen to all of these people’s stories,’ because if they only knew.”

Being in this academic environment, Zobrist tries to find ways to open herself to new ideas and perspectives which she has found through her school’s newspaper, as well as through volunteering at Saturday Hoops, a nonprofit recreational center helping inner-city kids.

At Saturday Hoops, Zobrist plays basketball, does crafts and interacts with the kids. She became a mentor at the center in her sophomore year when she met 3-year-old Braydon. After teaching Braydon how to read the first page of “Green Eggs and Ham,” the two formed a connection, and soon after, Zobrist was paired up to become his mentor.

“[Being a mentor] makes you understand that there’s a whole lot more to building a friendship and a relationship than just being friendly,” Zobrist said. “[Having a mentor] makes them feel as if they have someone to lean on. And it can even impact them as an adult and make them an even better person as they grow up.”

In her school, Zobrist has been able to become more mindful of new perspectives through her school newspaper, The Warpath. Last year, as editor-in-chief, Zobrist introduced a page called “the Warriors on Warpath” where students could submit their writing or opinion pieces on cultural and racial issues, allowing their stories to be brought to light.

Zobrist’s desire to foster open conversation extends past her own community and into her goals of creating greater unity and conversation in the world of media and journalism.

“Some of the faults I see in the media are that it’s tailored to fit what they think the audience wants to see,” Zobrist said. “We’re so focused on engaging people that we lose the ethics of great journalism. I want to bring back the unbiased, factual news so that people have a reliable source that they can turn to no matter what.”

A part of Zobrist’s inspiration for this change stemmed from a girl at her school who is Native American and African American. The student wrote a letter to the editor explaining the offensiveness to the Native American community of both the high school’s mascot, the Warrior, and the school chant, “the tomahawk chop.”

“It’s almost like you never saw that side of the story, and so she opened up a whole other perspective, and it got the whole school talking,” Zobrist said. “And I feel like if more news outlets would be more open to admitting some of their faults, then we would have an open conversation.”