The 9-year-old daughter hit me with a tough question the other night.
Not the BIG birds and bees question often asked by kids her age, which experienced fathers usually deflect with a crafty, “Go ask your mother.”
But a tough question nonetheless, at least for me.
“What’s a journalist?” she wanted to know.
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It was for a school project and as she waited, pencil in hand, I suppressed verbalizing my first knee-jerk thought: “Someone who can’t do math.”
My next move was to whip out the phone to look up the definition.
That brought a swift and well-deserved drive-by scoffing from my wife, “You’ve got to be kidding,” she said as she walked past.
Realizing I wasn’t going to get off that easy, I also realized that it is a question that despite my 30 years of being one, I had never really stopped to think about.
I guess it’s a kind of “can’t see the forest for the trees” kind of thing. When you are busy doing your job day after day, you seldom take time to consider just what it is you’re doing.
For many years I personally rejected the label of journalist. I preferred to call myself a newspaper reporter, feeling that journalist sounded kind of arrogant or elitist.
But in this modern age of electronic communication, newspaper reporter is about as archaic a job description as mule team driver or book gilder.
My employer doesn’t even call itself a newspaper anymore. We are now a media company.
But none of that answers a child’s question.
I tried to keep it simple for her. A journalist is someone who gathers information to share with an audience either in writing or by television, radio or the Internet.
It was generally the same kind of answer I gave about a week earlier when when I spoke to her class about my job. But apparently she needed me to reiterate it for her report.
And let me just say that few things are as daunting as facing a room full of fourth-graders (A big hats off to teachers everywhere).
Especially when they and their teacher are fluent in a language I don’t understand.
At least they addressed me in English, and I was quite impressed with the questions they asked.
Although one little girl kind of summed up the whole state of things with this gem: “How come more people know about Twitter than they do about the newspaper?”
If I’d had a tie on I would have done the old Rodney Dangerfield “tough crowd” move.
Instead, I explained that while that may be true with people her age, many older people like me still read the newspaper and don’t even know what Twitter is.
In the end, I told them that they were all being journalists right now. They were asking questions and gathering information to present to an audience.
I’m very interested in seeing what my daughter’s report looks like when it’s done.
I won’t be able to read it because she’s writing it in French, but I’m sure it will sound melodic and beautiful.
To reach Tony Rizzo, call 816-234-4435 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.