Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kids Still Say the Darndest Things

Today I administered my final exam in reporting. It's a three-hour exam period, and I give them an extra half hour, which a few of them always take.

I think they suffer. I want to teach them to do something that is quite simple once you get your mind around it, that is, to write a 100-word summary lead that could serve as the entire story if some mad editor decides to cut. It won't be THE story, but it will be better than nothing. The creation of a summary lead makes clear that news is, in fact, made and that truth and fact are not the same thing.

Or so I hope they come to understand.

On the first day of class, some of the kids do a summary lead better than I can. Others never learn. They are indignant that I wish to bully them out of their ability to tell stories, which to them means more or less in chronological order throwing in every bit of information I give them. I'm sympathetic. I don't like summary leads. I like to tell stories, too.

But that is not the "darndest" of this post. One of the things I talk about in basic reporting is when and if you include racial and/or ethnic descriptions in a crime story. I'm old school. It has to be a pretty detailed description of an alleged malefactor before I will permit racial characterizations.

On the exam today I included this description of a woman accused of stabbing someone in a bar after arguing about Barry Bonds and steroids. (Got to keep it topical.)

The victim said he was stabbed by a woman he knows only as Johnny, whom he describes as Caucasian, more than six feet tall, in her 30s with a shaved head, wearing black jeans and a purple sports bra, with a "Meth Rules" tattoo on her right bicep and a "Frodo Lives" tattoo on her left bicep.

Subtle I am not.

Little girl comes up to me in the middle of the test. Says: "Dr. Robertson. Can I speculate that the suspect might be a man?"

The darndest things.


Anonymous said...

At my first job there was a guy named Jim Choit or something within calling distance of that who was famous for his short ledes. They averaged about 12 words without doing damage to the story. I naturally took aim at him and got my average down to 10 words. The day came when he acknowledged he was no longer alpha dog. He didn't actually roll over on his back to signify submission, but we both knew

Anonymous said...

This guy sounds like an asshole. Why allow him to sound off?

....J.Michael Robertson said...

He may be an asshole, but he's also a Friend of the Blog. I think asshole is one of the qualifications.