Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - March 18, 2011

A look at the future of journalism

'Pre-porters' visit the Weekly

by Glenn Wohltmann

Recently I had the chance to meet up with some of my young colleagues to discuss the newspaper industry. My 25 or so fellow reporters had some definite opinions about what should go in a paper and what makes a great journalist.

I should probably mention here that those colleagues are third-graders from Leslee Hart's class at Mohr Elementary School.

The class includes some budding reporters -- let's call them "pre-porters" -- and publishes its own paper, "The Eagle's Nest," that includes everything from breaking news to poetry, art and even an advice column. They're also politically active, although their views are more concerned with whether lunch should be held before or after recess than they are with health care or pension reform. The paper has started its own petition to change recess back to after lunch and has received 126 of the 400 signatures needed to make the change.

The class visited the Pleasanton Weekly where we discussed the difference between journalism and writing fiction (although some readers have accused us of blurring the line) and deadlines. We also talked about the inverted pyramid style of writing, the idea that the most important aspects of a story go on top with less and less important details following so it can be cut from the bottom for purposes of length; and about the five Ws (and one H) -- who, what, when, where, why and how -- that are the key concepts in news reporting.

That stuck for a few of the kids, notably Aditya Bhaskar, who made the five Ws the key focus of her essay about the class's visit here.

I got to interview them as they interviewed me, and while they were learning about some reporting basics, I learned -- or relearned -- that you have to be careful what you tell a reporter in general and a third-grader in particular. I joked, for example, that I had three bosses, and that made me the "fourth boss" and was surprised to discover that many of my young colleagues took what I said literally.

Some of my future competitors were disappointed about the size of our offices; one -- who'll remain unnamed -- called our place "a tiny hole," and another was disappointed that we only take up one floor of the building.

Our wires got a little crossed when we talked about the days when newspapers all had printing presses in the basement; apparently I misspoke, giving them the impression that this building once had its own printing press. If only that were so; I miss the rumble that let me know I could take a deep breath and start getting ready for the next edition.

Unlike most of the journalism world, "The Eagle's Nest" doesn't rely on advertising sales. Instead, it gets its funding from its principal, Ben Fobert, they said, which makes me envious.

I was happy to have a quote of my own used -- accurately -- by Archita Singh, since I'm usually the one doing the quoting.

"Writing every day helps improve it," Singh quoted me saying. She graciously left out that I also said, "You have to stink at something before you get good at it."

Another essayist made me fell pretty good when he said, "The newspaper is very important," until I read on. "If someone doesn't have a TV, they read newspapers," he continued. I'd like to think they're not mutually exclusive.

In all, the essays were complimentary. Allison Lee in particular made my day.

"I felt so lucky to be there in the building with such talented writers," she wrote.

A couple of the students, Everett Hunt and Ronit Krovidi, called the Pleasanton Weekly "awesome," -- high praise, especially from third-graders.

Sahil Anand's essay gave me hope for the future of journalism when he said, "This field trip to the Pleasanton Weekly gave me a lot of ideas for my writing."

I was also reminded that I could never be a teacher. I don't have the energy.

Some of these pre-porters said they hope to be journalists when they grow up, and from the look of their paper, they've got a pretty good head start. I look forward to reading their work, whether it's on the printed page, in cyberspace, or whatever new form reporting morphs into over the next 20 years.

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