A TEACHER and student who survived a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people died, are to collect an award for their journalistic work in the wake of the tragedy at a controversial media conference in Edinburgh this month.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon pulled out of the BBC Scotland-sponsored NewsXchange event after organisers revealed that right-wing activist Steve Bannon will take centre stage.

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A gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day this year, killing 17 students and staff members and injuring 17 others. A journalism adviser from the school, Melissa Falkowski, will travel to Edinburgh with 17-year-old pupil Dara Rosen. Falkowski said she respected Sturgeon’s decision but would be attending the event on November 14-15.

Sturgeon cancelled her discussion with BBC Scotland Editor Sarah Smith, who is also due to interview Bannon in front of an audience of media executives, saying that conference organisers risk “legitimising or normalising far-right, racist views” by showcasing Bannon on stage.

Falkowski said: “Bannon is a very polarising figure and I don’t agree with his views. Our panel is completely separate to whatever he is doing. I do respect the idea that they are bringing him to discuss the state of news and our country is founded on freedom of expression.

“I also totally respect Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to pull out. There are some people who think you can’t give Steve Bannon any kind of airtime because he is spewing hateful rhetoric and I see that side of it, but I also see the other side of it which is that we all have the right to freedom of speech.

“The journalists coming to the conference will ask him some really tough questions and challenge his views. He will not be welcomed with open arms and I’m sure his views will be very robustly challenged.”

Falkowski and Rosen will travel to Edinburgh to collect the Global Youth and News Media Prize in recognition of student journalism at the school in the wake of the attack.

The Guardian’s US edition partnered with the young writers in the wake of the shooting. Falkowski hid 19 students in a classroom cupboard until the all-clear was given.

The National:

The outrage of the teenage survivors from the school transformed into a two-million-strong rally in Washington – March For Our Lives – which has re-galvanised the debate about gun control in the US.

The student-led Never Again MSD political action committee has put young people at the fore of the demand for political change in favour of gun control in the mid-term elections.

Rosen and Falkowski said they were hugely excited to be coming to Scotland to receive the award on behalf of the school’a 50-strong student journalism team. Rosen said: “Receiving the award is 100% for our entire newspaper staff and everyone who has helped and empowered us.

“The work we did with The Guardian, I feel was very important to all of us. It showed that although we are students and we are young we could place articles with a major newspaper and win awards for it. It feels very empowering, and I’m very grateful to them.’’

Rosen said the school is very slowly returning to normal. “Everyone at a normal school would hear a fire alarm and things would be calm and walk out. Not here.

“If there is a fire alarm here, we all sit still and we’re quiet and inwardly we are freaking out. The atmosphere is getting better and we are getting back to being teenagers, in a way. But it will never be the same as it used to be.”

Falkowski said: “Our lives changed after February 14, everything was challenging. As victims of a terrible crime to turn round and cover the news at our school ... including a memorial edition of the paper ... was very difficult. It’s been hard but the students really wanted to call for change.

‘‘The students don’t think anyone else should endure what we have endured. I think that speaks a lot about their character and their commitment as journalists. They’ve handled themselves with grace.”

The National:

A vigil for the victims of the Parkland massaccre

ROSEN recently wrote a moving piece for The Eagle Eye, Marjory Stoneman’s official school news magazine, about dealing with trauma. She said: “It’s hard. We used to write about normal school topics but now things are obviously different.

“For our final quarter, we published a special edition all about activism but a lot of what we’ve written about is about security and trauma. No-one expects 16 and 17-year-olds to be writing 2000-word obituaries about their classmates.”

Falkowski agreed that the school is forever changed. “This last year has been very tense and stressful, she said. “We remain in a state of trauma and we have resigned ourselves to the fact that our lives are difficult and have changed because of such an intense trauma.”

Bannon hit the headlines again last week when the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence announced a new investigation into his activities during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Reuters news agency reported that the committee is looking into what Bannon might know about any contact during the campaign between Moscow and two advisers to the campaign, George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.

The committee is also said to be keen to examine Bannon’s ties to Cambridge Analytica, the former data analysis company that the Donald Trump campaign hired to help identify and target messages to potentially sympathetic voters. William Burck, a lawyer for Bannon, denied that he would appear in front of the committee as anything other than a witness.

Both the BBC and the European Broadcasting Union told the Sunday National that Bannon is still very much part of the News Xchange programme.

A BBC spokpesperson said: “News Xchange is an annual EBU journalism conference which the BBC and other broadcasters support to make happen.  Steve Bannon was invited on behalf of the EBU’s News Xchange committee. 

“Good journalism in a world of fake news and disinformation is more vital than ever.  Journalism is about asking tough questions and understanding whatis happening in the world and why. A conference designed to analyse the big issues impacting that world isn’t an endorsement of anyone or anything – it is a function of what journalism is.

A Guardian News & Media spokesperson said: "We are pleased to receive the inaugural Global Youth News and Media Prize in partnership with the student journalists from Parkland, Florida. This is an opportunity to highlight the power of student activism to redefine the debate about guns in America - and the role the media can play in elevating the voices of young people.

"Guardian US deputy editor Jane Spencer will attend the News Xchange conference and collect the award alongside members of Parkland's Eagle Eye newspaper."