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The Gift of Gab: Part 1 (Why Journalism Matters #4)

This is Part I of the Gift of Gab in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana RomeNo matter what career a student pursues after high school, almost all of them require some semblance of communication skills. Whether it’s email correspondence, the interview process, collaboration with colleagues or some form of persuasion and argumentation (sales, advertising, law, etc.), students must leave high school with a certain degree of comfort and clarity in conveying thoughts and ideas.

Scholastic journalism is probably the only class that provides built-in experience with real-life communication situations. Through the next few posts of the Why Journalism Matters series, I will bring you through various ways journalism classes and newspaper clubs teach vital communication skills to students in authentic ways that other classes don’t.

Part 1: Interviews

Before a journalist and her source even sit down for an interview, the interview must be scheduled. Journalists have to approach this request with professionalism and tact, especially if the interview has the possibility of meandering into precarious topics. Like the rest of us, a source obviously has a limited amount of time for interviews, and if he or she is highly sought after, a journalist may be vying for precious time with competing publications. A well-crafted email request or a friendly phone call that convinces the source that an interview with you is worth the time may be just what it takes to secure an exclusive.

At the actual interview, which is ideally in person or over the phone, the journalist is not just responsible for firing premade questions at her source. The source is still a person, and no one appreciates feeling like he is under interrogation by a robot. A journalist’s first job is to make the source feel comfortable; therefore, scholastic journalism gives students the chance to work on “small talk,” imperative in most real-world workplaces.

More than just having the ability to speak well, though, journalists must also listen well! They cannot stick to the 20 questions they prepared in the days prior to the interview; they have to ask follow-up questions and let the source’s answers drive the interview in the natural direction it takes. Sometimes the best stories come from interviews that start to feel less like interviews and more like casual conversations. Not that a journalist should manipulate her sources into a false sense of security; but most journalists enter the field because they love to talk to people and tell others’ stories when no one else has, or will.

Next week, I will discuss how soliciting advertisements further nurtures students’ communicative skills and prepares them for the real world in only the way scholastic journalism can.

Need more evidence that journalism’s focus on interviewing fits the needs of English classes? Just take a look at some of the Common Core State Standards for English, grades 9-10:

  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.A

Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.

  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.C
  • Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.2
  • Integrate multiple sources of information presented in diverse media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) evaluating the credibility and accuracy of each source.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.3
  • Evaluate a speaker’s point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric, identifying any fallacious reasoning or exaggerated or distorted evidence.
  • ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.6
  • Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grades 9-10 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)

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.