This is Part 3 of the Gift of Gab in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.
In the final post of the “Gift of Gab” series for Why Journalism Matters, pitching articles must be discussed. Yes, many editors dole out article assignments to their writers because certain subjects and events need to be covered; but when a rookie journalist looks to make a name for herself, pitching to editors is crucial. Pitching articles not only shows initiative, but also proves that a journalist has her finger on the pulse of what’s newsworthy (read: timely, unique, prominent, local, etc.).
In the world of scholastic journalism, though, in order to effectively pitch, students again must use refined communication skills to convey ideas; even the most compelling article idea can fall flat to an editor if the reporter’s pitch proves poor.
At Pascack Hills, Trailblazer staff typically pitch ideas orally at regularly scheduled meetings. Students must present ideas loudly and clearly for the entire staff to hear, as there are more than 50 members on staff. If they wish to cover their own pitch, they have to convince the section editor that the idea or event is worthy of coverage. They must be able to clearly and concisely articulate their thoughts, as not everyone knows about the topics presented and there’s only a limited amount of time to hear everyone’s ideas (not to mention the teenage attention span is short . . .).
When a pitch is presented, students are given the chance to volunteer to cover the article if the pitcher doesn’t want to cover it. At that point, effective pitching is even more crucial. If the pitcher believes in the value of the article, and this value is not effectively conveyed to the rest of the staff, she will hear crickets. Communicative skills like clear tone, voice projection, body language, intonation, clear reasoning, and even counterarguments are essential for students who are also scholastic journalists.
If a staff member misses a meeting, she can add an idea to a pitch meeting Google Doc that’s created and submitted to the staff, post-meeting. Here, brevity and strong word choice are crucial, as students have but a few words to summarize and “sell” their article ideas to the rest of the staff.
English teachers see these skills all the time when students write claims for argumentative essays or have to get their points across in Socratic seminars and class discussions. If you want to integrate pitching articles directly into your English classes, have a lesson where students come prepared to pitch article ideas for a mock newspaper. Maybe it’s a newspaper set in the 1920s to go along with your unit on The Great Gatsby in order to provide historical context; or maybe you simply want to focus on current events. Either way, pitching article ideas gets students reading nonfiction texts, analyzing the world around them, and creating effective arguments.
Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on pitching articles fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9-10:
Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
Initiate and participate effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grades 9-10 topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience. (Grade-specific expectations for writing types are defined in standards 1-3 above.
Alana Rome is an English teacher, newspaper adviser for Trailblazer, and soon-to-be journalism teacher at Pascack Hills High School in Montvale, NJ. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in English education, grades 7-12, both from Iona College. Alana is a contributor of English Leadership Quarterly and has provided professional development sessions at EdScape, Global Education Conference, and Columbia Scholastic Press Association on a variety of topics, including global awareness, authentic assessment, classroom technology integration and student goal-setting.