A Reporter’s Tips To Increase Kid’s Success

A Reporter’s Tips To Increase Kid’s Success

There is a widely held belief among educators that 8th-grade algebra is a gateway course to college. As one who struggled with math, I would suggest another pathway to academic success. The ability to write clearly and logically.

I would further argue that the best way to teach good writing habits is to study the hard news story. Indeed, the hard news format, practiced by journalists for generations, is an efficient and flexible tool for instilling discipline and focus for young writers.

Talk to any English professor, and they will tell you how poorly the average high school senior is prepared to deliver functional writing assignments. They will tell you how students lack an understanding of structure and order. They struggle with assembling the research needed to make a strong case. They often underestimate the amount of time needed to complete each stage of the process, which leads to rushed and poorly executed products.

I believe I can provide solutions to all of this through the introduction of a project-based curriculum rooted in journalism.

Project-based instruction, also known as “linked learning” or “work-based” learning, is a concept found to be especially successful in improving outcomes for at-risk students. Central to the curriculum is the linkage of traditional academics with real-world job applications.

Research shows that students enrolled in linked learning programs have higher graduation rates and lower drop-out rates with increased postsecondary preparedness and enrollment.

Such results have led some school districts to dedicate entire high schools to the linked learning format. Sacramento City Schools, for instance, has a high school where students are preparing for careers in health care, from doctors and nurses to paramedics, hospital administrators, and even facility engineers.

Here are 4 strategies my class would emphasize.

  1. The inverted pyramid. Visualize the Giza Pyramid turned upside down, so that the entire structure rests on its tip. With that image in mind, let’s consider a few facts of a make-believe news story that starts with a traffic accident and a pedestrian badly injured. To properly organize this news story, the writer must decide which facts go first, and the inverted pyramid provides the answer. The idea is to give the reader the most fundamental message first. A 51-year-old man was killed Wednesday in a traffic accident on Main Street. The second sentence might carry the next most important fact. The victim, Fred Smith of San Francisco, was a political consultant and an advisor to Gov. Gavin Newsom. Each of the following sentences would carry additional details in descending importance. Once a student has some exposure to this skill, their writing overall will be forever improved and carry over into all other coursework. 
  1. Short, declarative sentences. The demand for brevity goes back to the Civil War era when news was transmitted on telegraph wires and a dollar value was attached to each letter used. More than that, however, simple sentences support clarity and reduce the pitfalls of poor grammar. Hard news is formal, and its topics are typically serious. Conversational language is discouraged. 
  1. Time management. A reporter on deadline must quickly assemble the elements of a report. Many inexperienced writers spend too much time procrastinating, which leads to indecisive communication. 
  1. Research. Despite claims about “fake news,” no newsroom I ever worked in, tolerated even a hint of fabrication. Reporters are required to use credible sources to build their stories. Generally, editors want to know who the sources are even if the reporter has agreed not to name the source in the story. Working under deadline, a reporter must know where to get the information needed to fill out the story.

In my class, objectivity and accuracy would be constants.

Tom Chorneau Tom Chorneau spent nearly 30 years in mainstream journalism, including more than a decade as an investigative reporter for the Associated Press and the San Francisco Chronicle. His most recent non-fiction book, “Mrs. Cook and the Klan,” details events surrounding an unsolved murder that took place in rural Iowa in 1925. For more about Tom visit www.tomchorneau.com.



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