If you ever get the opportunity to talk to students about your profession, I highly suggest you do so.
Principal Bradley Warren of West Elementary School sent an email to The Arcadian, sharing his students’ Leadership group that created a newspaper called #WestLeads News. Inside, the second-grade students covered the week’s weather, The Leader in Me habits they learn at West Elementary, the Spirit Week schedule and more. They even had what we in the news industry call a “bishop,” a box that says who works on the newspaper. There were headlines, bylines, graphics, photos and photo captions.
I was so impressed that I told Warren I would love to meet the students. Soon after, second-grade teacher Michelle Lawrence invited me to the day they participate in Leadership Camps.
I came to class and spoke with the students about where news comes from, how the newspaper goes from a story idea to a printed paper, important tools of the trade (pretty much a note pad, a pen and a camera are the basics) and what someone must study in college in order to become a journalist.
It is always a bit nerve wracking when you open up the floor for questions. You never know what is going to come out of a child’s mouth. In the past, I’ve been asked if I have ever been arrested, to which I clarified that I was not a member of the paparazzi. I didn’t dig through people’s trash or shoot photos through windows. This time, the best question went to a young boy who wanted to know, “Why are there so many words in a newspaper?”
The students received two copies of The Arcadian, and they flipped through all the pages multiple times. I had never witnessed children so enraptured by a newspaper before. They loved all the colorful photos.
It’s that kind of curiosity that is needed to keep newspapers alive. Since I started pursuing a career in journalism in 2007, everyone has told me, “It’s a dying industry. There aren’t going to be newspapers in 20 years.” I honestly don’t believe that.
Facebook is overflowing with stories with exaggerated headlines and unverified sources. Television broadcasts are constantly being slammed for being biased, and recently, big-time news source hosts have come clean and admitted some of their biggest stories were faked.
Newspapers are still vital, important parts of society and especially small communities. Small community newspapers work diligently to provide accurate coverage of as much of the county as they can with usually a dismal amount of staff. They rely heavily on community members to keep them informed on what’s going. Some would argue that everyone in the county should subscribe to their local newspaper in order to stay informed, find out when events are planned for, learn about important decisions made by elected officials, etc. Unfortunately, there are varying opinions about what is or is not important news.
Take the students for example. The newspaper they created as the local weather forecast. The Arcadian does not. Several of the students loved the photos of animals from the local shelter while others were attracted to the sports photos. Some children enjoyed looking through live event coverage and feature stories to see if they recognized anyone. Each part of the newspaper was important to different students based on their interests, backgrounds and people they knew.
In the same way, community members care about different parts of the newspaper. Some only grab the issue they themselves or their family members were featured in. Some pay attention to the front page too look for “big, splashy” stories exposing corruption or mayhem while a handful of people never want to see any coverage that can be interpreted as negative. Others want more sports coverage. Still more only want to read who was arrested and who died each week.
Our job as journalists is to cover as many events, meetings, features as possible deemed “newsworthy.” We report on the great successes, innocent mistakes, poor decisions and anyone who tries to fly under the radar with illegalities. We are the watch dogs of DeSoto County. Combining these stories together, we strive to create a product that will entertain but ultimately inform our readers as a whole to what they should know about their home.
While there are disagreements about news and how news should be covered, I believe that newspapers have a permanent place. They may not always be on paper, but the local newspapers (whether in print, online or via Hogwarts owls) will continue to thrive because of their important role in the community of keeping elected officials honest, sharing successes of local businesses and encouraging residents to know all the facts, all the points of view to then make an opinion when voting, protesting, supporting or talking about news in the county.
And, it starts with promoting that curiosity and hunger for accurate information with students just like the second graders at West Elementary School.