3 Decades Ago, a Reporter Posed as a High School Senior

Today, she's not sure her monthlong ruse for the 'San Francisco Chronicle' was ethical
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 7, 2024 7:01 AM CDT
3 Decades Ago, a Reporter Posed as a High School Student
   (Getty / TW Farlow)

Thirty-two years ago, a 26-year-old reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle posed as a high school student for a month to get an inside look at how students and teachers were coping with severe budget cuts. Only the principal and guidance counselor at George Washington High School, along with the district superintendent, knew of the newspaper's ruse involving reporter Shann Nix—who is now Shann Jones, a writer and goat farmer in Wales. "I tried to present the human side of it," Jones says, looking back. "It turned out to be, you know, was it even a good thing? Was it even an ethical thing?" That's the question the newspaper explores as it revisits the project, noting that it's unlikely it or any newspaper would or even could do the same thing today. One of the students Jones befriended during her month undercover still has mixed feelings about the ethics.

"She saw kids were processing divorces and death and homelessness and coming out," says Mario Trigueros. "We wanted to consider (Shann the reporter) an ally and advocate for us, (but there was) this deep betrayal, and we didn't consent to all of that." Now with kids of his own, Trigueros adds, "Imagining that somebody would reveal the secrets that my daughter gave to somebody she trusted? It sounds horrific." (Jones didn't reveal personal secrets she learned as a pseudo-student.) If all of the above sounds like a Hollywood movie, there's good reason: Jones reveals she was interviewed by the screenwriters of the Drew Barrymore film Never Been Kissed, which has a similar plot. "I still think it was a good idea," says former city editor Dan Rosenheim. "You get a real feel for some of their struggles, and it would have been hard to do that in any other way." Read the full story. (Or check out other longform recaps.)

Stories to sink your teeth into.
Get our roundup of longform stories every Saturday.
Sign up
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.