Blogs > Laura Kessel's blog

Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I’m getting the message across — the hard way

I guess I should start with an apology.

Or a clarification.

Either way, I need to reiterate to about 20 sixth-grade girls from Lake County that Justin Bieber didn’t get arrested for punching a 12-year-old who jumped on stage at Great Lakes Mall.

No, Bieber wasn’t really at the mall. No, you didn’t miss a free concert last Friday night.
It was all made up.

It’s not as menacing as it seems when you read that over. I had good intentions when I made up the story.

When one of the leaders of Leadership Lake County’s 6th Grade Junior Leadership Academy called and told me how glad she was that I agreed to speak, I was touched. Then she suggested that I plan an activity for our young visitors as part of their annual visit for “communications skills day.”

After an initial discussion of what communication is and why it’s important, they broke into three groups that then rotated through a few words-on lessons.

One stop was a tour of the building from General Manager Brian McCloskey. He had the cool job of showing them the gigantic rolls of paper on which The News-Herald is printed. These tours are quite popular, and we see groups of Scouts and even senior citizens walking around from time to time.

The paper is always the highlight, though. One roll of that paper is about as big as a Volkswagen Beetle.

Another stop involved a lesson in communications skills. The students retreated to our cafeteria to try out what they’d learned in the earlier discussion with some hands-on activities.

The last stop, though, was with me. That’s where the trouble started.

Last year, when I spoke, I gave them a history of my career and took their questions about journalism. Even I’ll admit it was boring. I have met me, and I know I’m not really all that entertaining.

After hearing that the students wanted to learn about what a reporter does, I started thinking.

I immediately opted against sending them out to cover breaking news. So, I decided to create an “event” that they could “cover.”

Anytime you use that many quote marks around random words, you know there’s trouble. So, here mine:

I decided to make up a story rather than to use something from Friday’s headlines. Ours were either a little too graphic, or would require too much explanation.

Because the students are tweens, I centered on Justin Bieber.

The girls love him, so I made him the performer at a surprise concert at Great Lakes Mall. The boys hate him, so I made him a villain.

Oops No. 1: The girls were upset that they missed the concert. (In the story, he showed up at the mall the night before to perform. Area residents had been encouraged to go to the mall because all the stores were having a massive sale.)

Oops No. 2: The boys were outraged that he’d punch someone their age. (In the story, three youngsters stormed the stage, complaining that there was no entertainment for them. Bieber got mad, and he punched one of them. In the story, he was arrested and charged.)

Oops No. 3: Forgetting to tell the first group that everything on their handouts was made up. (After the initial hysterics, I made sure to say it MANY times to the second and third groups.)

As I walked around the newsroom to make sure that everyone knew what they were doing and was doing the interviewing exercise I’d planned out, I listened to the questions they asked the characters I’d developed as witnesses to the fake event.

“Do you think Justin Bieber should be fined more than $1,000 for punching a kid?”

“Were you afraid Bieber was going to punch you, too?”

Later on, once the group had gathered together to go over the assignment, I asked what they thought the lesson was.

“To ask questions.”

“To have confidence.”

“To listen to what they say.”

All great responses. And, while all were definitely part of the process, none were what I was after.
“I want you to remember to never let anyone off the hook.”

That proclamation was met with confused faces.

“If we just let people say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ you’d never find out anything that you need to know. So, we have to follow up.

“Whether it’s your friends, or your parents, or your teachers, I want you to remember to never
let anyone off the hook. Make them answer your questions in a way that gives you the information that helps you understand what’s going on.”

I made sure they understood what I meant, and they all nodded in agreement.

So, be prepared, everyone. A bunch of inquisitive youngsters are coming your way.

It’s OK, you can blame me. That is if they’ve gotten over the Bieber shock.
Twitter: @Lauranh


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home