Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Student Story Ideas & News Literacy: The hands-on approach

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

On March 16, Candace Bowen of Kent State University’s Center for Scholastic Journalism gave a fascinating keynote speech to high school students and journalism advisers from across Chicago. The 300 or so students were gathered at the city’s Cultural Center for the annual high school journalism awards ceremony hosted by Roosevelt University. Her topic? How to come up with good story ideas. We loved it – she trimmed what could probably be an endless list of suggestions down to a pithy 5 Tips, or questions a student reporter can ask to help spark ideas. We find it stimulating – not just because this list could be used by anyone anywhere, but because it is part of how doing reporting exposes young people to the mysteries of journalism, and connects them to journalism, what it means to produce quality content and to the meaning of good, well-sourced storytelling.

Tip #1: What has made me angry lately?
If your sister wearing your sweater made you mad, why not talk to a few peers to see what makes them mad too? And even take it further – ask a school counselor or family therapist to ask them what makes young people mad. Or what about the system for rating movies? What differences really exist between the R-rated movie you can’t see and the PG movie you can see.

Tip #2: What have I wondered about?
Ever noticed that construction site down the street? Maybe a shopping center is being put in. Will that mean more jobs for teen readers? Or what will that new bridge mean for traffic near the school?

Tip #3: What is the next Big Ticket item I’m going to buy?
Might explore automobiles and safety issues. Or look into computers. What computers do students need to bring with them to college? You don’t want a PC if your major uses software that works better on Macs.

Tip #4: What have I been worried about lately?
Everything from a flu epidemic to snow days can be cause for worry. You can contact everyone from the school nurse to the county health department to get specific details about how to keep yourself healthy and precautions to take. And snow days don’t have to be a mystery. Find out who makes the decisions for your school and when and what they use as a basis.

Tip #5: What did my best friend just ask me?
It may be just silly gossip but maybe not. There are zillions of ideas all around you.
But the bottom line is that you have to localize – and “teen-ize” – your ideas. Give your readers info they won’t find elsewhere because it’s not written just for them. You’re the only one writing for your specific audience. Dig for the sources with the info that can make a difference in their lives and yours.

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