Nothing Ever Happens at Our School

Nothing ever happens at your school. There’s nothing that would make a good story. Your school newscast has to be boring. You are so wrong!!

Steve Hartman of CBS believed that everybody has a story. Read that again…EVERYBODY has a story…and he set out to prove it in his own way. He stood with his back to a map of the United States and tossed a dart over his shoulder. Wherever the dart landed became the location of his next story. He traveled to the town and used the local phone book to select a name at random. His challenge then was to visit that person and discover the story. He produced over 100 segments of Everybody Has a Story and many of them are still available on the web. Watch some of them to see the wonderful feature stories he found.

Your staff can benefit from this same attitude. Get in groups of three or four and challenge yourselves to find the best story that can come out of each group. This works even with people you think you know. My students discovered that one of their classmates had a parrot with a vocabulary of 100 words. Another student had attended 17 different schools. Another was a jewelry maker. If you really want to challenge yourself, randomly pick a person or a homeroom -- no darts in school, please -- and make it your job to discover the story that is there.

Another way to generate story topics is to take a tour of your school. Take a small group and stroll down the hallway outside your classroom. Stop beside a classroom door and ask, “What topics does this spot bring to mind?” That particular classroom might that of the yearbook advisor which would prompt ideas about the new staff, the new video version planned for this year, or even the controversy over whether senior pictures have to be taken by the official school photographer. Moving on down the hall, your group meets a student who is wearing a shirt with a logo on it. What story topics does that suggest? Student shopping habits? A student with a cause or an obsession that is always promoted on his t-shirts? You’ll be surprised what ideas come out of your group when they have a prompt that focuses their thinking. A good teacher or student producer will prepare to lead the tour by having some of their own great ideas ready to toss out to the group to get things started and set the pace.

Yet another way to help student journalists notice story ideas is to ask student staffers to LISTEN for 24 hours and then choose a sound that can prompt a feature story. It might be the field commander of the band barking out a command. It might be the ringtone of a friend’s cell phone. In my class, one story that came out of this was about the historic steam whistle that sounded every day at 5 p.m. The shy student who noticed this sound as a potential story landed an interview with the mayor and a tour of the old building that housed the whistle. That one story set the tone for his success as a student journalist.

Yes, some people might call these “gimmicks” but activities such as these help new student journalists build the habit of observing their surroundings and being able to take the most seemingly common person, item, or sound and say, “That’s a story.”

Kerby00Janet Kerby is a National Board Certified Teacher in Career and Technical Education specializing in broadcast journalism. Her extensive teaching experience at Roane County (WV) High School is the foundation for her current work in teacher training (http://www.video-educator-training.com) . Janet presents sessions for teachers and students at national conventions in conjunction with the Radio & Television News Directors Foundation. Janet developed and teaches an online graduate credit course, Teaching Broadcast Journalism, for Kent State University.