Give a kid a newspaper, and he will read for a lifetime

Posted on September 4, 2012

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My 11-year-old son was freaking out the other morning.

It had nothing to do with breakfast or his clothes, or whether he had studied for the quiz that loomed.

He was freaking because our newspaper had failed to be delivered on time.

I know what you are thinking–what self-respecting 6th grader reads the newspaper? After all, on The Daily Show, when Jason Jones visits the New York Times, he says the only person who would like the final printed product is his grandmother. Ba da bump.

But my kid had no other option. He was born into a newspaper reading family to people who wrote for newspapers and magazines and now teach other people to write for newspapers and magazines. We love everything about newspapers–the feel, the smell, the arrival on our doorstep and, most significantly, the news.

I have 60 students this semester between my two Writing and Editing for Media classes at Ohio State and in an effort to make them all appreciate and value news, they have all been required to buy a subscription to the Columbus Dispatch as part of their class “text-book.” My goal is for them to read and incorporate news into their every-day lives, and to come to appreciate all the is contained in that chunky little package that miraculously–and some would say antiquatedly–lands on our front stoop each morning.

I used to give my students news quizzes to test their awareness of news stories, but I found students read just enough to get by for the quiz and retained less than I would hope. To shake things up this semester, we are now doing news budgeting, by which they read the newspaper front section all week, and then come in on Friday ready to budget their own front page. I give them what I believe are clever clues (many no doubt disagree) and they have to ID the story, write the correct headline from the week’s paper, and decide how important it would be to include that story in their own front page.

They have nine stories total and must eliminate three based on news value.

Here are some examples of our clues (and the answers):

  • $25 free + traffic gridlock = worst promo event ever (Racino freebie jams up highways pg A2)
  • Cadillac: Built to run over the world’s best on streets or sidewalks (Driver, 100, backs into 11 people A3)
  • OMG! getin pulled Ovr by Qt cop–just lIk on TV. (State texting and driving ban begins Friday, A1)

Although week 1 was the Dispatch A section, next week is The Lantern. And the week after we will bring the Dispatch metro section into play. The New York Times and Washington Post are coming their way, too. My goal–and it seems to be working–is that they will read and incorporate news into how they think and what they write. And they will read to remember, not just to pass a quiz.

With the luxury of semesters coming this year to Ohio State, it is time to try new activities in the truest sense–engaging our students with new exercises, allowing them to experience real-world adventures, and giving them the chance to write, write and write some more.

And if all is right with the world, they will be like my son–checking their front porch for the newspaper without which they can’ t start their day, long after their quiz grade depends on it.

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