Lee's Summit Journal

Curious (and curiously poignant) sixth-graders and the case for discussing news

Curious kiddos at Underwood Elementary really wanted to know more about athletes John Beaudoin has interviewed, his favorite stories he covered, if he’s ever been in dangerous situations, and if anything he’d written had ever made him sad.
Curious kiddos at Underwood Elementary really wanted to know more about athletes John Beaudoin has interviewed, his favorite stories he covered, if he’s ever been in dangerous situations, and if anything he’d written had ever made him sad. Columnist

Rachel Logan’s bunch at Underwood Elementary are quite the inquisitive group.

And even though all three classes are not “hers” per se, she gave each the opportunity to hear about my career in newspapers, my transition to work at Lee’s Summit City Hall and, eventually, my move to being a small business owner.

While all of that may be only mildly thrilling, these soon-to-be junior high schoolers found infinite ways to ask about athletes, politicians and others I had interviewed over the years. For this 44-year-old — who’s really old, I am sure, in their eyes — it was impressive to see the breadth and depth of some of the queries and even the follow-ups they had.

I was asked to Logan’s classroom to discuss research and reporting and how we accomplished such tasks as part of the job I did for more than 20 years as a newspaper reporter.

During that time, I covered everything from presidential elections to severe weather events in Iowa and sports in eastern Jackson County. I wrote investigative pieces, penned a weekly column, authored features on community and business leaders, and even covered school board meetings where I was counted as one of five in attendance.

I prepped for these three classes by thinking about what my own experiences in research included.

When I first started as a sportswriter, I knew nothing — nothing! — about soccer. Didn’t play it. Didn’t care for it. But at some point, pretty early on, I was assigned to a high school soccer match, so I had to do some quick research on the sport.

Whether it’s learning the rules of soccer or covering a trial, journalists are often called upon to be an expert in whatever they are writing about. And that usually requires some degree of research on the topic.

First and foremost, I cautioned these sixth-graders about leaning too heavily on Wikipedia.

Second, I said it was important to be curious about your topic.

Whether you’re researching crime, the weather, anthropology or the 1960s, nothing replaces one-on-one interviews with experts on the topic.

Of course, with all that discussion, the curious kiddos really wanted to know more about athletes I have interviewed, my favorite stories I have covered, if I have ever been in dangerous situations, and if anything I had written had ever made me sad.

What struck me was how thoughtful many of them were and how personally and poignantly some of the questions were delivered.

I do get a little misty talking about covering the aftermath of a tornado in Iowa that took four young lives.

I do get passionate when I discuss covering government and politics and the research responsibilities that fall to each reporter.

And it does get personal with me when sixth-graders know and ask about what “fake news” is, and how news sources can or cannot be trusted.

Now, in fact, I am convinced it’s a conversation that needs to happen every school year with every sixth-grade class.

Research, reporting and writing are dynamic and vibrant topics we need to talk about with a generation struggling with how and where to find their news.

And as important as those topics are, so is the notion of curiosity and inquisitiveness.

These classes had it, and it will serve them well in the future.

Lee’s Summit resident John Beaudoin writes about city and civic issues, people and personalities around town. Reach him at johnbeaudoin4@gmail.com.

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