Local second-graders already have a firm grasp on newspapers

Back in January, I wrote a column about how I'd been musing on the state of journalism. My insights weren't particularly novel - they largely reflect a lot of the discussion that has been going on in the wider media world and the communications academic world for some time.

The next month, I gave a talk to the The Exchange Club of Sugar Land during one of their regular Friday morning meetings at the Sugar Creek Country Club. They were good people and I felt warmly received, and the audience asked some probing, sometimes a bit tough, questions about how journalists go about doing their jobs.

Last Friday, I gave a similar talk to a much different audience - the combined second-grade classes at Setttlers Way Elementary School in Sugar Land.

I had initially been asked to take part in the school's Career Day on Monday. Unfortunately, that happens to be production day for the newspaper and I couldn't afford to take that much time away from the grindstone, er, computer. But with a little bit of negotiation, the school allowed me to come to give a solo talk

I went into the talk with some trepidation - I've never been a very accomplished public speaker, and I don't particularly relish talking about myself. That was compounded by the fact that I was late for the scheduled time, making the cardinal sin for journalists of missing deadline. But once I arrived and entered the large cafeteria filled with eager young pupils, I began to relax.

The first thing that struck me was how incredibly diverse the school population is. I grew up in Alief, which was then and remains a very diverse place, and it was very heartening to see here. It's seems trite to say, but these kids are indeed our future, and after meeting them, I feel very hopeful about it.

After giving a somewhat truncated version of the talk I'd given earlier to the adults of the Exchange Club, I started fielding questions. And that's where it got really interesting, because their questions got right to the heart of what journalism is all about

"Why are there are newspapers?" (Ideally, in a democratic system the news media tell people the important things happening in their community so they can make good decisions.)

"What happens if you make a mistake?" (You try very hard not to, but it sometimes happens. The important thing is to correct it.)

"What happens if you don't finish the newspaper?" (Nothing good.)

"What happens if people lie in the newspaper?" (Real journalists should never do this. Unfortunately, the problem of false or misleading "news" has been a growing problem, here and all across the globe.)

"Are you famous?" (No, not really.)

As you can tell, these precocious young people already have a strong sense of why newspapers (and news media generally) are important, and why they should adhere to strong ethical standards. As interested as they may have been in me, I was very heartened to learn about them.

One other thing: The school has just started its own newspaper, produced by the students themselves, called "The SWE Star." They're off to a very good start.

As always, please feel free to contact me with any story suggestions, news tips, or if you just want to give me your take about what's happening in our fair county. You can reach me at KFountain@fortbendstar.com.

NOTE: This column originally misnamed the elementary school. Mr Fountain regrets the error.

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