Telling It Like It Is
Requests to make presentations for Career Day came from over a handful of community schools over the past three months. I haven't been a Career Day presenter in a few years and I decided to choose wisely. When my 11-year-old sister asked me to attend Career Day at her school, the Lenox Academy Junior High School at East 101st Street and Flatlands Avenue, I couldn't say no. So, out of all the requests I received, I accepted this one – being the good sister that I am.
I was nervous for a few reasons. First, I had to impress my sister and her class with my career. If I messed up, I'd have to answer to her way after the presentation and that would have been just plain embarrassing. Second, getting kids excited about newspapers is tough. Reading in general seems like a lost pastime among youngsters. Giving them a reason to pick up their local newspaper is like psyching them up to read a dictionary.
When I arrived at The Lenox Academy Friday morning – to be honest – I had nothing prepared. No notes, no index cards to guide me through the presentation, and nothing in my hands but the latest issue of the Canarsie Courier to show off what my career entails. My sister did the honor of escorting me to the three classes I would speak to. My hook was asking kids, “Do you like to get into people's business? Do you like sticking your nose where it doesn't belong?” When a group of students in each of the classes eagerly raised their hands, I said, “Great! Then being a journalist may be the career for you!” Rather than boring the students with the process of physically putting a newspaper together and explaining the miniscule details of getting content, I wound up impressing them with stories of how being a reporter is about being out in the field and hitting the pavement to get news.
One exercise I had the kids complete was to break up into groups and “pitch” news stories, as many writers often attempt. Surprisingly, the students had some great ideas – they were excited about the “pink slime” articles that were recently in the news and they wanted to know why their school lunch was treated with ammonia.
What's important to children when it comes to the news in their school? Program cuts, teacher evaluations, and the food they're served, seem to be among the most prevalent issues affecting their daily lives. Two other classes, older grades, were fascinated by murders covered in our newspaper.
When I told them that being a journalist means running to a crime scene and possibly seeing a dead body on the ground, their eyes lit up. When I told them it's a rush to have to get a photo of the dead body or even a car accident where people are being taken into an ambulance, they were intrigued. One student boldly asked me, “Did anyone ever punch you for taking a picture at a crime scene?” Even though, thankfully, that never happened to me, the danger of the career and the investigative aspects of being a reporter, were exciting to them.
I have to give credit to a lot of the older kids in the community – especially the ones I spoke to on Career Day. Most of them knew about Franckey Aleger, the off-duty auxiliary officer who was shot while walking to the train station last month. A couple of the students asked me if the murderer was caught, and who I spoke to at the police department to get updates.
My sister and I on Career Day
Nosey students admired my career for the simple fact that I get paid to hunt for answers and chase crime. Of course, I had to tell them a little bit about being an editor and how delegating stories sometimes means telling reporters, “Your story stinks – write it over!”
Let's get real. It seems like most kids would rather go to the dentist than pick up a newspaper and read about what's going on. However, after my fun career day experience, it's clear to me that in order to get kids to appreciate newspapers, you have to appeal to their gory side. You also have to show them that there IS news out there that directly affects them.
I realized that kids ARE interested in what's going on in the world and their community. The tricky part is making it appealing to them so that they will want to read about it in their local newspapers. In addition, if more adults keep children informed of what's going on in their neighborhood, there's no doubt that kids will care. I'm humbled to know my sister is proud enough to show me off. I'm also humbled to think I made an impact on kids who might want to make a career of being nosey.