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Your assignment … Partner with someone. You have two minutes. Ask them three to four questions. Switch. After one minute.
Your question … Did you find a great news story? Or even a great story?
High school news writing – turning average into GREAT Jeanne Acton ILPC Director
What is the job of the high school reporter? to tell the story of high school students to give the powerless a voice to report on school events, activities, policies to hold the school accountable to entertain, inform and protect
What is NOT the job of the high school reporter? to print shock stories to print gossip to print OLD news to be a PR machine for the administration to get the administration to be a PR machine for the newspaper class
What should a news story look like for a HS paper? Very often its a news feature Rarely do you see a GOOD straight news story Look for the how and the why of the news News stories should look a lot like Time magazine stories finding a face for the news Dig deep and find unique angles rather than tell old facts
Why do we avoid the inverted pyramid news story for HS? Honestly, its boring. HS papers rarely break news. Students want to read about students. People should drive the news stories.
Heres the boring news lead… The largest local provider of free and low- cost counseling for families and children, Lifeworks is kicking off a $1.5 million public fund-raising campaign that will allow the nonprofit group to help more teens.
Heres the story with a face … Aaron Fain knows what its like to need help. At 17, his mother, a heavy drug user, disappeared with her latest boyfriend. That left Aaron broke and homeless, too old for foster care, too young to make it on his own. Lifeworks helped him get his life back together. The helped me get food when I was hungry and gave me shelter when I needed a place to stay, Fain said. They really helped me through some tough times. Lifeworks, the largest local provider of free and low-cost counseling for families and children, is kicking off a $1.5 million public fund-raising campaign that will allow the nonprofit group to help more teens.
What did the reporter do? She found a face to accompany the news. The facts (news) are still there, but they are surrounded by an interesting story.
Lets look at another story. The school board voted to end block scheduling next year. Because of budget constraints, the district will resume the seven- period day in the fall of 2011. We just cant afford to have eight periods anymore, superintendent Bill Boring said. If the state changes the funding system, we may be able to bring back block scheduling in the future.
Chances are everyone at your school already knows the schedule is going to change. Rarely, does a high school newspaper break a story … its just hard when its not a daily paper. (So again, throw out the inverted pyramid.)
So instead of telling an old story, put a face on the story. Weave together the news facts with someones story.
Jamie Hersh freshman year didnt go too well. He failed five classes. He didnt improve much his sophomore year, either, earning only two credits P.E. and computer tech. I just wasnt into school, Jamie said. I hung out with my homeboys, and we chilled. Somewhere between his sophomore and junior year, Jamie said he grew up. I knew I didnt want to be in high school until I was 30, he said. I promised my mom I would graduate.
Jamie started summer school and with his counselor made a plan to graduate. At the end of this summer, Jamie will be eight credits shy of graduation. No problem, he said. But there is a problem. Next year the school is changing from block scheduling back to a regular 7- period day. Jamie wont be able to get his credits for graduation. I cant believe they are doing this, Jamie said. Everyone in my family was so excited about my graduation. I will have to go to summer school or come back the following year.
Lets look at an example from the professional media Non-profit groups across the country have been hurting for years because of the lagging economy. Government funding is down, as are private grants and donations. The closure of Eloises Home, a day care facility for seniors with Alzheimers, is one of many non-profit groups that is closing its doors at the end of the year.
Carol Hale sits on her cream-colored couch, babbling softly to herself. Da ba da ba da ba, the 78-year-old chants, wiggling her peach-painted fingernails in the air. Then she peers at a guest she had greeted moments earlier,Hoo, hoo, who are you? This is the new Carol Hale, the one Alzheimers made.
A little more than a year ago, Carols 87- year-old husband, DeWitt, began driving her every day to Eloises House, a day care facility for seniors with Alzheimers. But in November, the non-profit home closed because of funding problems. Since then, Hales verbal skills have deteriorated, and she is losing the ability to perform simple tasks, such as dressing herself.
Though Alzheimers gets worse with time, Carols husband blames her deterioration partly on the closing of Eloises House. Now she wanders around like a lost sheep, he said. She doesnt know what to do with herself.
What I see … On April 15, 200 BHS students attended prom. The theme this year was Star Studded Night. Prom was cool this year, senior Jack Lamo said. I liked the pictures of celebrities on the tables. Some seniors said they didnt like the food at prom this year. Last year the food was better, Candy Flavor said. I didnt like the cheese dip or the mini-cakes. Rhonda Popular and Mitch Handsome won prom king and queen. I cant believe I won, Popular said. It was such a shock.
Even more average reporting Next year, it will be illegal to text while driving. I dont do it, said Carol Boring. I dont know how to drive yet. Her best friend, Cathy Bland, agreed that texting while driving could be bad. I heard someones dad was hit by a student who was texting while driving, she said.
It doesnt end … This school year students who are late to class are sent to the tardy lock-out room for that entire class period. Principal Dan Jones said he started the tardy lock-out policy because too many students are tardy. We have a tardy problem, he said. Hopefully, this new policy will encourage students to be in class on time. Sandy Dandy said she went to the tardy lock-out room twice. It really is boring, Dandy said. I dont plan on being tardy again.
The bottom line is: We need to cover this stuff things like prom, texting, policy changes, etc…
How does the high school reporter accomplish good news writing? must find the stories of the school must cover the events and activities of the school (hopefully before the event occurs). Must find new angles. must cover issues that relate to teens lives (cutting, obesity, sexting) build a relationship with the administration so that they can have open and honest dialogue understand the population and report on relevant issues and entertainment
How does the high school reporter accomplish this? cover more than just their friends and their friends/friends ask, look, listen, search, research dig deep for real stories, for unique stories ask the tough questions must be accurate must be fair must document sources
How does the high school reporter accomplish this? must be ethical sources must be solid, living and identified. (The Internet is not alive.) keep an open mind. The administration is not always the bad guy/gal. Edit. Rewrite. Edit.
What is the difference between average news writing and great news writing?
Getting a great interview. The heart of good reporting is in the INTERVIEW.
Six steps to preparation Build up students self esteem Review basics of interviewing Practice Prepare Do it Debrief – What worked? What didnt?
Before the interview Research what you can Set up a time/place for interview Prepare (write questions) Prepare materials (paper, pens, tape recorder, etc)
Tips for interviewing Know the subject and issue Start with the easier questions Focus on how and why questions (avoid yes/no questions) Dont be intimidated Avoid off the record statements Have questions prepared
Tips for interviewing Dont be afraid to veer off from your questions Ask open-ended questions. Not Why is the new tardy policy failing? Ask. How is the new tardy policy doing? Figures? Notice everything. Observe. Interview away from friends. NEVER in a lunch room or hallway.
Tips for interviewing Dont let them see your notes Ask tough questions last Have a conversation Build trust Control the interview Dont be afraid to reveal a little about yourself.
Tips for interviewing Dont be afraid of emotions (AIDS) Go to their space, if possible Be prepared to interview more than once Interview friends and family when appropriate Dig deep End interview with, Anything I missed, anything you want to add?
Notetaking Do it. Write the important quotes. Develop a short-hand if possible. Transcribe as quickly as possible. Practice, practice, practice. Take a tape recorder if possible. (Robert) Verify notes (optional).
What goes wrong with interviewing? Lack of preparation. Missing materials. Missed the angle. Inappropriate dress. Not listening. Aimlessness. Fear.
What goes wrong? Bad notes Lost control of interview Reporter is late/misses interview Friends tag along (either side) Subject too dry
Students should know… Not every interview must go in the story. Everyone doesnt always tell the truth. FACT check. Sometimes people deny saying things after they see it in print. Good interviewing skills take time to develop. Interviewing well is not an easy job.
Lets look at the result of bad interviewing/news writing… Many high school students and teachers have friends and loved ones who are either in Iraq or have been there. My uncle went to Iraq in November, senior Charlie Brown said. Hes back now. He said it was really violent. Science teacher Sandi Minks son is in Iraq. Its tough having your son in constant danger, she said. Brown said he never wants to join the military. It just seems too dangerous, he said.
With a little reporting, we get … Science teacher Sandi Mink gives her home phone number to all of her students. She wants to be available to students as they work on her physics assignments at home. But dont bother calling at 8 p.m. on Thursday nights. Thats a sacred time for the Mink family. Thats Jeffs time, she said. Ever since he went to Iraq, my son Jeff calls home once a week at 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Hes called almost every week since hes been gone, she said.
One Thursday in October, Jeff missed his weekly call. I was sure he was dead, Ms. Mink said. I started crying and couldnt stop. Finally at midnight, he called. Jeff had been on a raid and couldnt get away to make his weekly call. Luckily, Jeff is a computer guy, she said. He works on the communications end of things and doesnt see much action. But that night, he had to go on the raid to identify equipment.
Remember this one? Next year, it will be illegal to text while driving. I dont do it, said Carol Boring. I dont know how to drive yet. Her best friend, Cathy Bland, agreed that texting while driving could be bad. I heard someones dad was hit by a student who was texting while driving, she said.
Heres good reporting… OK. C U @ 7. The text was innocent enough. No profanity. No illicit pictures. No inappropriate messages. But that innocent text changed Stephen Smiths life forever. As his finger hit the send button on his phone, Stephen looked up and realized he had swerved into oncoming traffic. An 18-wheeler was headed right for Stephens small Honda civic.
Stephen jerked the steering wheel and missed the huge diesel, but his reaction sent the car spinning into a tree on the side of Route 220. When the paramedics finally got me out of the car, I only had a weak pulse, he said. They didnt think I would survive. He did. Just barely. And that is one of the reasons Stephen spoke to the Texas Legislature and threw his support behind the new texting while driving ban. It almost killed me, he said. I dont want another parent to have to live through what my parents did.
Lets look again at the prom story … On April 15, 200 BHS students attended prom. The theme this year was Star Studded Night. Prom was cool this year, senior Jack Lamo said. I liked the pictures of celebrities on the tables. Some seniors said they didnt like the food at prom this year. Last year the food was better, Candy Flavor said. This year it stunk. Rhonda Popular and Mitch Handsome won prom king and queen. I cant believe I won, Popular said. It was such a shock.
Gillian Ruiz never thought she would go to prom. Shes a self- described plain-looking nerd. So when senior football captain Tom Hunhel asked her, she was more than a little shocked. We were lab partners in science, she said. I thought he was cute, but I didnt think he even knew I existed outside of the science class. He hangs with the popular crowd, and I hang with the computer geeks. But Tom said he has had a crush on Gillian since science teacher Greg Hill paired them together. Shes so down-to-earth and so dang pretty, Tom said. Most high school girls spend hours putting on gobs of make-up and tons of hairspray to impress the guys. But none of that stuff impresses me. Gillian did accept Toms invitation, but now shes a little worried about the outcome.
I dont know how to dance – at all, she said. My mom is giving me a crash course. I have two left feet. Gillian also said she has no idea what to wear. My usual attire is a T-shirt and jeans from Old Navy, she said. I dont even know what stores carry prom dresses. Tom isnt worried though. I dont care if she steps on my feet a hundred times or wears her favorite T-shirt to prom, he said. I am just so glad she will be there with me.
This school year students who are late to class are sent to the tardy lock-out room for that entire class period. Principal Dan Jones said he started the tardy lock-out policy because too many students are tardy. We have a tardy problem, he said. Hopefully, this new policy will encourage students to be in class on time. Sandy Dandy said she went to the tardy lock-out room twice. It really is boring, Dandy said. I dont plan on being tardy again. Lets look at the tardy story again…
What if we found someone who was really affected by the change … Rafael Martinez lives for baseball. He plays it every month of the year. His room consists of baseball bats, catcher equipments, old and new gloves, trophies and literally hundreds of balls. He was the leading hitter for the varsity team last year. But because of the new tardy policy, Martinez may be sitting this season out. If I get one more tardy in first period, I will lose credit for the class, he said. If that happens, I am not eligible.
Martinez said he doesnt have anyone to blame but himself. I am not a fan of the new policy, but I know Principal (Dan) Jones was trying to solve our tardy problem, he said. So far this year, Martinez has been in the tardy lock-out room six times, four for first period. After five unexcused absences, a student loses credit for that class. I sleep through my alarm a lot, he said. My parents both go to work really early so I am home alone. Since the tardy policy began in January, Principal Jones said the amount of tardies has dropped dramatically. Last semester we averaged 200 tardies a day, Jones said. We are down to about 25 a day now. Jones said while he knows the policy is working, he does not want to see Martinez lose his eligibility. I cut a deal with him, Jones said. I will call him every morning as a back up to his alarm clock if he promises to hit a home run every game.
Your assignment … Get in groups of four to five. Read the two articles. Discuss which story is better. Come up with a few reasons why the story is better.