Friday, October 2, 2009

REPORTER BLOG: The Ties that Bind

Max Resnik

You find out your story is about education. Certainly it’s an interesting topic considering the state of affairs that our country finds itself in. Education sits on the back burner like chores to a child as we combat health care, wars overseas and peace in the Middle East. That’s part of the reason why, when I first read the background information to my story on Nelsonville York High School’s Ohio Graduation Test scores, I was almost saddened.

To me, it was just another school community in rural, poor southeast Ohio that was having trouble. And why wouldn't I think that? Are these preconceived notions unreasonable? Jobs are hard to come by, Nelsonville’s city council is in a fight to keep businesses, and state funding is nearly impossible to come by. Yet, as I would find out almost immediately, something greater and more important is going on in the Nelsoville-York school district.

Sense of Community
From the moment I walked through the school’s doors something was different. Greeted with hand shakes, smiles and looks of curiosity, school administrators and teachers acted as if I’d been there before. To the reader it might sound normal that all of these cordial greetings happened, but many times for a journalist this is simply not the case. Armed with a silver metal box carrying my camera—which weighs the shoulder down like a set of golf clubs, a tripod neatly folded under my arm, and dressed in my reporter’s garb, I was pleasantly surprised to see how willing everyone was to talk me.

As part of the media, it can sometimes be impossible to go into a community where you have no ties. Not only do you play the part of 'them' in the “us versus them” model, not only are you a stranger, but you are there to discuss something negative that concerns what quite literally is the community’s future.

Cynthia Winner, Director of Curriculum

Understanding My Bias
I was lucky. What I encountered in searching for my answers about how Nelsonville York could rectify its low OGT scores was something more than the trite “plan of action.” What I found in my search was more than any individual. Fulfilling an idealistic view of what community can become, the parents and administrators displayed a passionate and prideful view, not only of the Nelsonville community, but the school that had failed according to the Ohio Department of Education.

But how is this beneficial to the reporter? How is this event any more special than being greeted with a smile at the coffee shop around the corner? It serves as reminders of what a journalist can do wrong in the field. The preconceived notions I spoke of earlier have the ability to make a journalist closed-minded, anxious and flat-out wrong. Having those notions erased and realizing that your own thought process has been thrown off track, serves to make you a better journalist.

Journalists, as we gather information about the stories we cover, must leave whatever predetermined feelings we have at home. We cannot act as though we have a grasp on any topic just because we may have covered it in the past. Being a part of the journalism profession is a special thing. It is one of a few professions that is actively engaged in every demographic, every class status and every socioeconomic group. That is why we must read, view and listen to as many different people, from different corners of the regions we cover, to get a true understanding of what life is like for an individual in the area a journalist covers.

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