Column/Learning the ropes from local students

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 12, 2007

This week I had the opportunity to visit three classrooms in the Dallas County School System.

The Selma Times-Journal and two local televisions stations are partnering with the school system to provide journalism training to those students who are interested in learning about the craft.

The classes were at Keith and Southside high schools and Tipton Middle School, and David Hagood of the Dallas County School System facilitated the sessions.

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Let me tell you, these students will keep you on your toes.

They are sharp, articulate and eager to learn.

For the most part, the students asked intelligent questions.

Throughout my career, I’ve talked with a lot of different groups, but the young people I talked with Wednesday caught me off-guard with a few of their questions.

One young man at Southside was concerned that newspapers are “too into people’s business.”

I can’t quite argue with that, but explained that it is our business to convey newsworthy information to the public.

He suggested we should ask someone who is arrested if it’s okay before we run a story.

I was also asked about quoting people who use “ghetto” talk or slang.

Needless to say, lively discussions took place at the schools.

We discussed the basic principles of journalism and the students seemed genuinely interested in learning more.

The journalism class at Tipton Middle School is well ahead of the game. Their teacher has prepared them with the fundamentals already – they know to answer the 5 W’s of a news story:

Who, What, When, Where and Why.

In our society, kids who act out or get into trouble seem to get a lot of attention. But most of the students I met Wednesday have a bright future ahead of them.

They just may need a little support getting there.

There are gifted writers in our classrooms and visionary teachers who work hard to bring out the best in these talented young people.

Talking to the students also reminded me of some of the most important aspects of journalism.

Just as all politics are local, journalism should be as well.

When we discussed what makes an item newsworthy, it was quite obvious what makes a story interesting to them – if it’s about their school, their community or someone they know, they’re interested.

That’s the essence of community journalism.

We talked about writing a first sentence and the students examined The Times-Journal for examples. The great thing about young people is they don’t hold back.

Members of our staff will be working with these three classes during the rest of the school year. I’ve told the rest of the staff they need to be on their best game to keep up.

As for me, I look forward to the next session and what questions and discussions may come up. I have no doubt I’ll learn a lot.

Tammy Leytham is editor of The Selma Times-Journal.