Student journalist provides Idaho’s Panhandle with politics coverage

Wallace High junior John Webb was so frustrated with North Idaho newscasts dominated by Washington politics, he decided to create an Idaho politics newscast for his friends and neighbors.

John Webb

Now, one of the Silver Valley’s best sources for coverage of the Idaho governor’s race is a student journalist, who is still too young to vote and had to balance his interview schedule around homework and extracurricular activities.

Webb, the anchor and managing editor at Wallace High’s Channel 3 News, interviewed the five leading candidates for governor heading into Tuesday’s closely watched Idaho primaries. The assignment allowed him to interview Tommy Ahlquist, Raul Labrador, Brad Little, AJ Balukoff and Paulette Jordan.

“Here in North Idaho, we’re a Spokane TV market, so we don’t hear or get anything from (Idaho) candidates,” Webb said.

He spent a month and a half lining up the interviews. Almost each night, he researched the issues central to the race and wrote and rewrote his questions.

He filmed the interviews, produced and edited the newscast, organized a poll at school and worked up graphics packages.

“He’s the one who did all the work, reached out to all the campaigns and emailed back-and-forth,” Principal Chris Lund said. “He just kind of took the reins and, next thing you know, we had all the candidates coming to our school.”

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These weren’t puff pieces that saw a student journalist lobbing softball questions and deferring to the candidates. Webb asked informed questions about teacher pay and retention, college readiness, the sales tax on groceries, unemployment rates, the Lucky Friday Mine strike, political attack ads and more.

To prepare, Webb traveled to Spokane and met with his journalism idol, KXLY anchor Nadine Woodward. He shadowed Woodward on the job and learned about interview techniques, strategies for developing good questions and other professional tips.

Back home in Wallace, Webb encountered some of the logistical and ethical issues that professional journalists wrestle with. At one point, Lund said, an unnamed candidate asked to review Webb’s questions in advance. Webb considered the request, but in the end declined to reveal the questions early, saying protecting his questions was a matter of fairness, consistency and independence.

“John stuck to his guns,” Lund said.

Webb is already looking forward to covering November’s general election. After graduation, he hopes to attend the University of Idaho and study broadcast journalism.

You can follow Webb’s professional journey through his Facebook page, and through Wallace’s Channel 3 News Facebook and YouTube pages.

To watch Webb’s gubernatorial interviews, click the video player at the top of this story or click here. 

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