The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The students at Florida’s Douglas High are amazing communicators. That could save lives.

David Hogg survived the Florida shooting and is demanding that Congress take action to stop it from happening again. (Video: Whitney Shefte, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

Telegenic and media-savvy is one way to describe David Hogg, a lean and dark-haired senior at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

But maybe a better way is this: Change agent.

And what could be more sorely needed than a change agent right now? Because the mass shootings in America have become a horror of repetition in which meaningful change has come to seem impossible.

Enter Hogg. The 17-year-old is the school’s student news director, who not only interviewed his fellow students during the horrific massacre at his school on Wednesday, but then spoke with passion to national media figures, providing footage that has now circled the globe.

In a level gaze directly into CNN’s camera, Hogg called out politicians for their hapless dithering.

“We’re children. You guys are the adults. . . . Work together, come over your politics and get something done,” Hogg said.

A loud, new voice after the latest school shooting: Kids wanting to know why adults hadn’t done more

Hogg wasn’t the only teenage survivor who demonstrated thoughtfulness and poise this week.

When CBS’s Jeff Glor interviewed four Douglas High students on his evening news show Thursday night, their quiet strength was remarkable.

They didn’t, of course, all have the same message. Two of the students Glor interviewed made the too-familiar case that it is too soon to be entering into political conversations. Another argued for greater gun control. One simply wanted to remind viewers to express love to their family and friends while they can.

"Students are dying. Children are dying," said Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Tyra Hemans. (Video: Whitney Shefte, Jorge Ribas/The Washington Post)

But what ties them together is their command of the visual medium and their powerful composure amid the worst kind of tragedy.

This seems all the more notable because they are teenagers.

But, in fact, it’s probably their very youth, and the all-digital world of social media — the water they’ve always swum in — that makes it possible.

‘Code Red!’ Despite preparations, no one was ready for what happened at Douglas High.

This is the YouTube, the Instagram, the Snapchat generation.

Communicating immediately and effectively is second nature. Even in their pain and fear — no, especially in their pain and fear — they knew what to do.

“They showed not only a familiarity with social media but a remarkable ability to ‘cover’ the events happening in their own lives,” David Clinch, global news editor at Storyful, told me.

That, Clinch said, “gives me some encouragement that this generation is not just able to understand and communicate about what is happening around them but is also putting themselves in a position to control the narrative and make a difference in their own futures.” (Storyful vetted and verified the videos students were producing, many of which then went out into the larger media world.)

In some cases, you could even see or hear Douglas students grappling with their own changing views in real time.

“I don’t even want to be behind a gun,” one girl told a student journalist during the attack, according to The Washington Post.

She said that, despite having rallied for gun rights in the past and having planned to go to a shooting range for her 18th birthday, she had changed her mind: “It’s definitely eye-opening to the fact that we need more gun control in our country.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), an outspoken critic of congressional inaction on gun control, seemed to think the students could make a difference.

“It’s really tragic that one of the ways our movement grows stronger is by having more victims,” he said, “but that is the reality.”

Explaining or exploiting? A mass shooting raises questions about media coverage.

Of course, the status quo is so corrupted and intransigent that perhaps nothing that is said — including by the transcendent voices of these young survivors — will make a difference. As so many others have observed, even the 2012 massacre of tiny children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., didn’t create change.

This week, though, feels just a little different.

In the wake of the shooting, students are demanding a more meaningful conversation on gun regulation, Robert Runcie, superintendent of the Broward County schools acknowledged at a news conference Thursday. “I hope we can get it done in this generation,” he said. “But if we don’t, they will.”

The passion, intelligence and credibility of the Douglas High survivors is not going to go away.

“I will not feel hopeful until a majority of Americans are out on the streets demanding change,” David Hogg told me by phone Friday afternoon.

His message to politicians is simple: “Instead of condolences, give us action. There is something seriously wrong here.”

Hogg noted in our conversation that he and his contemporaries make up the first post-9/11 generation. They also are the first to be immersed in digital culture from early childhood, and to understand at a gut level its full potential.

“Using these tools,” he said, “is what our generation should be known for.”

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