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The Gift of Gab: Part 2 (Why Journalism Matters #5)

This is Part 2 of the Gift of Gab in a weekly series by NCTE member Alana Rome.  

Alana RomeThere seems to be a negative connotation to the phrase “soliciting ads.” Businesses post “No Soliciting” signs on their doors, and those who work in sales are often portrayed as sleazy and conniving.

Still, procuring advertisements is a reality for any publication, for-profit or nonprofit; printing expenses are a necessary evil, especially for scholastic newspaper publications with limited funds. As a result, students must go out and solicit ads from local businesses. This is not a bad thing, though; in fact, it may be the best thing for a publication’s readership, community, and students. The latter particularly benefit from procuring ads because it bolsters communications skills.

This idea came to light at Columbia Scholastic Press Association’s 2016 Spring Convention. A teacher presented a session on how she has made procuring ads a requirement for her newspaper club and journalism class. At first, I was very skeptical: how can you force students to go to random local businesses and act like salespeople?

The more she defended her notions, though, the more they made sense.

Developing a business plan: In order for students to procure advertisements, they first need to develop a business plan: what businesses they plan to visit, how they plan to introduce themselves, how an advertisement in the newspaper will benefit a particular business, and how to counter a business owner’s reasons for not purchasing an ad. It’s similar to writing an outline for an essay in English class; students need to know what they’re trying to accomplish, why they are accomplishing it, and how they can go about persuading others that their course of action is the right one.

Public speaking (rhetorical devices and persuasion): My ninth-grade unit on Julius Caesar includes a study of Brutus’s and Antony’s speeches for rhetorical devices and persuasive techniques. If time allows, I may have students write and perform their own speeches in front of the class, but how much better is the experience when students have to perform their speeches in real-life scenarios? When the stakes are higher and more realistic than a class grade? In order to present their pitch and acquire the ads, students need to know how to formally and professionally introduce themselves, speak slowly and clearly, have relaxed and enthusiastic body language, and maintain eye contact. Not many students have to take an authoritative role when speaking to an adult, so when they are asked to procure ads for the newspaper, this experience is new and potentially scary, but it can be extremely rewarding.

Making connections and networking: Not only does soliciting advertisements help students with communication skills and gain revenue for the newspaper, but it also helps foster a relationship between the school’s journalism program and the larger community. With the advent of the Internet and social media, gone are the days where a student newspaper is only read by students, staff, and administration. Most papers, like our Trailblazer, have made the transition to online, where community members and essentially anyone around the globe can access and read a school’s newspaper. Therefore, strengthening community bonds helps strengthen, broaden, and increase readership in a way that was not possible before. Students help local businesses gain exposure, and student newspapers gain revenue to flourish as more authentic publications. In the same way, students learn how to network. Maybe a particular exchange between a student and business owner leads the student to get a job at that business over the summer.

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:

  • CCSS.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.

  • CCSS.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.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.1.D

Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.9-10.4

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.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.9-10.1

Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.9-10.1

Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

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.