Making the Most of Nate Riggs and School Board Meetings

Posted on January 18, 2011

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A select gathering of my Ohio State journalism students have joined me this evening at the Columbus City School Board meeting, a mere six hours after we welcomed social media guru Nate Riggs (http://nateriggs.com) to our class for a talk on blogs.

Our hour with Nate flew by, as he filled our head with ways our blogs could be better produced, better navigated and better read. I can’t wait to have him back to talk about more uses for social media for students who seek to enter the world and the workplace as ready as possible.

As for the meeting, one CCS staff member asked if I was torturing my students. Maybe they felt I was by the time we were  done.

I picked CCS for the same reasons I asked Nate Riggs to come–they are 1) rarely boring; 2) filled with personalities, and, in the CCS case, pretty typical of the meetings they may end up covering.

I remember hating meetings when I started covering them—they were boring, the hard seats made my butt numb, and I failed to see why the topic would be interesting to anyone.

Except they were.

Community members would write letters (I was a cub reporter so long ago that e-mail was like a Star Trek fantasy) espousing their view of meeting topics and why city leaders were either geniuses or idiots.

The more I go tot know my community, the more I realized how significant these meeting stories were to the overall health of my community. The residents needed to know what was going on. The elected leaders needed to know someone was paying attention.

I have covered my fair share of terrific elected officials. I have covered my fair share of incompetent ones.  I have reported on those who were just this side of criminal and unethical—and to the other side as well. I know more about polymer and the laying of sewer pipes than I ever wished to. I have covered trials of the same people who were once my sources. I’ve watched good people get voted out of office and inadequate ones get elected in.

But each story was important.

Objective reporting of topics was necessary to my readers; filtering out the mundane and sharing the important was appreciated. Asking the questions readers needed answered was my contribution to democracy.

I hope my students feel the same level of commitment.

And the meeting–after 3-1/2 hours we finally got to go home, our heads and notebooks filled with news.

An interesting side note Nate would love–CCS blocked ALL my attempts at social media during the meeting–no Twitter, blogging or facebook. What does that say about preparing our children for the future? And what advice would you give young reporters covering meetings–what do you want them to report for you?

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