In the 1400’s, a man named Johann Gutenberg invented something that would forever change the way people looked at reading materials.
Prior to the debut of Gutenberg’s printing press, words and drawings were all copied by hand. Nor was this a job that just anyone could walk in and apply for. The responsibility – and privilege – of copying books rested with monastery scribes who would then work with “illuminators” to add colorful illustrations and borders. That these painstaking tasks were so time-consuming also accounts for the fact that only the very rich could afford to have a home library. The advent of a “movable type” machine that could produce cheaper, mass produced manuscripts soon translated to widespread distribution of handbills, gazettes and “reprints” of classical works that were previously inaccessible to the lower classes.
While the mechanics of putting text into print has changed radically with the passage of time, it took an entrepreneur like Gutenberg to recognize typography’s potential for worldwide learning.
These discussion questions provide a good foundation prior to choosing which exercises to try first.
1. What newspapers are read in your home? Are they primarily liberal or conservative?
2. What part of the newspaper do you like to read first?
3. What magazines does your family subscribe to? Which ones are your favorites?
4. When was the last time you used a photocopier? If you had to hand-copy all of the content you photocopied, how long do you think it would take you?
5. If you were designing a flyer for an event at school, what would govern your choice of font, font size, color and inclusion of graphics?
6. Do you prefer to hear about what’s going on in the world via a newspaper, television, radio, social media or word-of-mouth? Which do you feel is the most/least accurate as a source of information?
7. Have you ever worked on a newsletter or school newspaper? If so, what did you do?
8. If you started your own newspaper, what role would you play (i.e., publisher, editor, reporter) and why would this role appeal to you?
BJ LOVES RK
When I was in 8th grade, our class had a bi-monthly newspaper (and I use the term “newspaper” very loosely) in which aspiring young reporters would pen stories about upcoming bake sales, spelling bee awards, school sports and cafeteria menus. The most popular column, though, was all about gossip. Since much of it was hearsay, our advisor told us we could only use first and last initials. Further – as an added safeguard for the privacy of students whose initials were easily decipherable (i.e., Vivian Quisenberry) – we had to swap out letters. Which, of course, pretty much defeats the whole purpose of a gossip column if none of the faux initials can be tied to actual classmates. (Still, it was fun to try to guess.)
Your assignment: The main character in your film short writes a teen advice column for the school’s online newspaper. As is her habit before hitting the SEND button, she always changes the names. What are the odds, really, that the fake first names she substitutes are two girls who have never met and yet suddenly find themselves in the spotlight as competing for the same guy? Write a three-page scene in which they confront the columnist about the ripple effect that her name-swapping has had on their respective lives.
ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY
When I was growing up, my family subscribed to two newspapers. One of them came in the morning; the other one came at 6:00 every evening. I was often amazed that so much could occur in the space of 12 hours that it required two deliveries. Such was certainly not the case in America’s early years of newspaper publishing. While there’s no question that there was plenty of stuff going on in the colonies and across the pond, there was that pesky logistics issue of getting it into print before it became stale. Sans modern technology, the weeklies frequently struggled just to find enough newsy material to fill their pages, a scenario that subsequently gave rise to the incorporation of advertising, serialized stories and classifieds.
Your assignment: Take a look at the website “Chronicling America” (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov) which contains digital issues of newspapers published between 1789 and 1922. As a starting point for this assignment, click on “100 Years Ago Today” or type in a topic pertinent to the late 18th and early 20th centuries. When you find an item that intrigues you, write two versions of a two-page scene between the character of a reporter and an individual connected to the story. In the first version, the interviewee is eager to talk; in the second version, the interviewee is agitated and evasive.
“Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” It’s hard to imagine a teenage Ben Franklin hawking newspapers but his brother needed help back in 1721 and he was happy to step up. A little over a century later, another Benjamin – Benjamin Day, publisher of the New York Sun – recognized the value of hiring cheap labor to get his publication into the hands of readers. The shift from competitive street corner sales to personal home delivery reflected the public’s demand for convenience; specifically, not having to get dressed and brave the elements in order to know what was going on. When we hear the words “paper route” today, the image that typically springs to mind is that of a kid on a bike tossing rolled editions onto the customer’s front porch in the wee hours of the morning. Yet more often than not, deliveries are nowadays made in a car or van driven by someone whose teen years are a distant speck in the rear view mirror.
Your assignment: It’s a rainy morning and an older man is slipping newspapers into plastic bags as he finishes his coffee. His grandson appears in the kitchen and remarks, “I should be doing that.” As the conversation unfolds in this four-page scene, we learn that it is actually the grandfather who has taken a paper route to supplement his retirement income.
In 1912, American aviatrix Harriet Quimby became the first woman to fly solo across the English Channel. Upon her arrival outside Calais, she was puzzled by the absence of reporters, particularly since the plans for her historic flight had been so well publicized. It wasn’t until she spoke to some locals that she learned the media’s attention was unanimously focused on the front page tragedy that, unbeknownst to her, had occurred just one day before: the sinking of RMS Titanic.
Your assignment: The main character in your film short is an ego-maniac who has been after the local newspaper editor to do a splashy feature story all about his/her life. On the day of the photo shoot and interview, however, the editor leaves a voicemail that something has come up and everything needs to be put off until a later time. Furious, the ego-maniac goes to the editor’s office to demand an explanation and an apology. Write a three-page scene in which this character is confronted with the reality s/he is not really the center of the universe. The character can either rail against this or experience a shift in self-perception.
As part of my ongoing commitment to supply great lesson plans for today’s classrooms, I always enjoy getting feedback on how the material is used and what kind of new content you’d like to see in future columns. I’m also happy to answer any questions related to specific problems your students may be struggling with. Just drop me a note at or through my website at http://www.authorhamlett.com.
Former actress/director Christina Hamlett is an award winning author, professional script consultant, and ghostwriter. Her credits to date include 34 books, 161 plays for young actors, and 5 optioned feature films.