Nan Austin

On Campus: Ceres kids turn tables, grill reporter

Time was when reporters wore hats with “PRESS” sticking up from the band, editors had green visors, and everyone in the bullpen was, well, a bull. That is to say, male.

A lot has changed since the days of one, all-important deadline and the daily paper being the only game in town for news. The heyday of the ink-and-dead-trees version of media has passed, but the need remains for a watchful set of knowledgeable eyes and a neutral voice explaining what they see.

When I speak to kids at school career days, that’s my pitch: Newspapers are evolving. How The Bee will arrive in homes when today’s middle-schoolers are graduating from college is anyone’s guess. But solid journalism never goes out of style.

Other things I stress to kids:

▪ Journalists have to be ready to talk to anybody in any job field, public office or difficult situation. In college, take a course from every discipline you can fit in. It gives great background knowledge and an elasticity in seeing the world through other eyes.

▪ Value math to learn logic and science to learn analysis – you will need both in abundance to sort through complex dealings or emotionally charged issues – in short, the things most worth writing about.

▪ Study other languages. Besides greatly enhancing your job prospects and restaurant ordering skills, it gives you the ability to communicate with folks without the filter of an interpreter. The study alone will improve your English writing skills with varied phrasing and stronger grammar.

▪ Learn to value criticism. When you write several stories a day, you will get faster and smoother. But to get better takes those flashes of insight, seeing what you could have done differently. Also, treasure a blunt editor. When 100,000 people see every mistake you make, a few seconds of brutal frankness can save you from weeks of much worse.

▪ Journalists have no superpowers or subpoena powers. We can demand only public records, documents anyone else can see, too. The only cape flying behind me is trust.

Over the past couple of weeks, I spoke to kids at Creekside Middle School in Patterson and sixth-graders at La Rosa Elementary in Ceres. I handed the sixth-graders the microphone and had them interview me. The video accompanies this story.

In June, The Bee will have another Eye on Education special section on the middle school years – working title, “Being Tween.” I took advantage of the Patterson career day to get middle-schoolers’ input.

I asked them to write down: Two things parents should know about middle school, and their dream job – whether or not it exists now – with two things they need to do to get there.

The first will be a good story for the special section. The second brought no futuristic visions, but it did show kids understand that grades and graduations matter.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339. Follow her on Twitter @NanAustin.