My (virtual) visit with Mrs. Nickerson's class

By Sarah E. Reynolds | Oct 08, 2020

Belfast — When Nancy Nickerson, a fourth grade teacher at Capt. Albert Stevens School, contacted me recently on behalf of her class, I was excited. Her students wanted to share their experiences of attending school during the pandemic with our readers. Equally exciting, they wanted to talk to me about newspapers and reporting.

If most people like to talk about themselves and what they spend a big chunk of their lives doing — their work -— journalists are perhaps especially pleased to be asked, because our profession has a mixed reputation. To some, we are cynical traders on the tragedies of others for the sake of newspaper sales, or biased reporters bent on tearing down the duly elected government. To others, though it seems they are fewer in number these days, we are the guardians of democracy, doggedly pursuing the truth and shining a light on matters the powerful would prefer remained in the shadows.

In any case, I'm always delighted when youngsters show an interest in what I do, and I was quite impressed with the range of questions Mrs. Nickerson's students came up with. They asked everything from how do we come up with stories to how often do we publish the paper; from what was the most interesting story I've worked on to have I, as an editor, ever rejected a story. They wanted to know how to become good reporters, and gamely engaged with me in a discussion of why freedom of the press is important.

A couple of their comments about this were spot-on: "When the press is free to write about what it wants to, then it can tell people ... what's going on and the government won't tell the newspaper 'You can't write about that.'"

Freedom of the press is important "so you can let other people in the world know what you think is wrong and what needs to be fixed."

They said they want to start a class newspaper to let people outside the school know what is happening there. Their paper will be called "COVID Classroom Chronicle."

I told them what I remembered about the first story I reported, about 30 years ago, a few more recent stories I have gotten satisfaction from, how reporting is different now than before the pandemic, and how journalists use the 5 W's and 1 H — who, what, when, where, why and how — to interview people and structure stories.

There was a lighter side to our conversation, too. The kids asked me if there was "drama" in the newsroom. I said no, it's not like TV shows such as "The Newsroom." They also wanted to know if I write any fiction for the newspaper. Again, I said no, no fiction for the paper, but I sometimes write poems outside of work.

Talking to these students was not only fun; it gave me hope. I loved their curiosity, their willingness to admit what they don't know, their receptivity. It was truly a shot in the arm, for which I'm grateful to each one of them.

All in all, this was perhaps the best half-hour I've spent as a reporter. I wish Mrs. Nickerson's class good luck with their class newspaper, and I hope I get to talk to them again.

Sarah Reynolds is editor of The Republican Journal.


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