Making it real

Written by Kristin Giron

As a member of the newspaper and yearbook staff during high school, I would always remember the sense of joy and accomplishment when I would see my name in print. I knew journalism was the career for me.

Fifteen years later, the world of newspaper reporting is behind me. No longer am I sitting in my cubicle writing stories and designing pages at a Pittsburgh newspaper. Now I am standing in front of 50 yearbook students, proving to them how journalism can make an impact on their life and give them benefits that are unimaginable.

When I became a yearbook adviser four years ago, I was apprehensive that I would make a good journalism teacher. I knew all the rules, could answer any style question and would mark up copy like no other. But how could I make journalism real to these students?

I was determined to make the yearbook as real as possible. I created a staff, appointed editors and assigned office space. We brainstormed ideas each week in an official staff meeting and I set up deadlines each month to teach students that deadlines must be met or else. If the story wasn’t in or the page wasn’t complete, the student’s grade would drop.

Although this system works well, I also learned that to make my job meaningful, I would have to get down to the student’s level and show them how exciting journalism could be. Soon I began to tell them about thought-provoking stories that I wrote for the newspaper, interviews I conducted with politicians and local celebrities and interesting design tips I learned with Photoshop. I even brought in friends from my former paper who won numerous awards for their writing and photography. After a few weeks of “gossiping” about the professional world of journalism and looking at professional pieces, the students were hooked.

Soon the staff began to find stories that were in-depth and interesting. Staff writers looked for interesting personality pieces and tried to find the hook for every story by following the professional examples I gave them. Photographers took the advice of the award-winning photojournalist I had speak to the class who taught them to never go to a scene and immediately take a picture. He says walking around to observe allows you to “capture what really matters.”

Within a few months, my students were coming back with great stories and pictures. They spent time finding the angles, getting that perfect shot and designing the best page. They placed great ideas on a bulletin board. They cut out articles that “told the story well.” They finally took ownership in their work, something that I struggled trying to teach.

I soon began to realize that I have made an impact because of what I have done in the past. I am realizing that I am my students’ best connection to the journalism world because I’ve been there. I really think that real-world connection has made all the difference.

Kristin Giron