6th graders put things in perspective

Published 5:11 pm Friday, August 27, 2010

I stood in front of Crystal Bass’ sixth-grade class at Jemison Middle School thinking I would give the students an idea of how newspapers operated. I talked about selling advertisements, circulation and our printing press.

Little did I know that the students were well past basic operations and instead wanted to get down to the gritty details. During my talk, the students sat there politely quiet but not seeming too interested. But when I asked for ideas for stories they either would like to see in our newspaper or could publish in their own newspaper (a planned class project), I found the class knew more about journalism than I could have believed.

The students mentioned the school uniform policy that had been recently implemented and the arrival of new lockers for one grade at the school—and one boy wondered why we haven’t covered his karate class (I didn’t have an answer for him other than I thought that would be a great idea).

Bass’ class understood perfectly why, for example, this column, an opinion piece, would be located in a different section of the newspaper and not on the front page like a regular news story. They even displayed some professional concerns, asking what a typical day was like and worrying that I seemed to be spending too much time at work (one girl misunderstood and thought I was working in all the departments I talked about).

The experience was enlightening for me. In my profession, probably like most others, things are perceived differently by our readers, or customers, than they are by the staff that works here in the office every day. We can produce a much better newspaper when we understand that difference in perception.

Instead of thinking of the newspaper as some empty pages on a computer document that we have to fill out each day, the students reminded me the newspaper is what arrives in people’s mailboxes or what they pull out of a rack after dropping in a quarter.

It’s our job to make sure readers perceive the paper as an essential source of the information needed to live in this community.

Ms. Bass’ class still has many more subjects to go through and many more speakers to hear, but I think there just might have been some future journalists in attendance.

Even if they choose another field, I believe those students will do well in life because of the curiosity and behavior they displayed. I was honored to speak to them.