Before Writing, It Helps to Listen

 //  Mar 26, 2015

Before Writing, It Helps to Listen

Last fall, we welcomed 32 students from across the country and around the world to the Scholastic News Kids Press Corps. The first assignment went to 13-year-old Ainsley Felter of Virginia: Interview President Obama at the White House.

Since then, our reporters have asked questions of Little League ace Mo'ne Davis, country singer Scotty McCreery, and author Walter Isaacson, among others. One reporter covered the Westminster Kennel Club Show in New York City. Another visited the International Auto Show in Detroit, teaching me a thing or two about 3D printers.

As editor of the Kids Press Corps, I feel lucky to be along for the ride. Am I happy when a reporter turns in a perfectly-polished piece? Yes, it saves me time. Do I let kids break a few rules now and then, inserting "I" into a news article, for example? Yes. It helps a reader when reporters are direct.

I'm trying to show our reporters how to ask good questions and get great quotes. I'm also teaching them how to listen, although they don't always know it.

Learning to listen is not easy. This can be especially true for a reporter. I know because I am one. Often, we're extroverts. We need moxie to pick up the phone and get someone who is shy or under fire or important to tell their story. Sometimes, we're so busy telling people what we think they're going to say that we don't stop to listen.

After years of practice, I'm finally able to keep my mouth shut, more or less. I audiotape all of my interviews (thank you, Steve Jobs), playing responses over and over, transcribing what I hear word for word. The less I cut off my interviewee, the better. This approach has made listening one of the most exhilarating parts of my job.

I hope that the same will hold for our Kid Reporters. Close listening helps with close reading and other skills that allow one to learn interesting—sometimes unbelievable—things from people who, lo and behold, know A LOT.

After all the heady interviews our Kid Reporters have gotten, my favorite quote comes from a kindergartner in Charlottesville, Virginia. Describing his role in a schoolyard garden, Cy Keesecker said, "I was on the weed side. I enjoyed the weeding and sitting in the dirt."

As every gardener knows, growing flowers brings untold rewards.

You can see all of our Kid Reporters' articles and video interviews here.


Mo'ne Davis shows Kid Reporter Joshua Yi how to throw a fastball. Photo by Rachel Brian.