Photo courtesy of Victoria Stephens
Students in Dr. Victoria Stephens Grade 5 English and Language Arts class at Thomas Crossroads Elementary School recently had a visit from a local reporter.
Rebecca Leftwich of the Newnan Times-Herald spoke with students over three class periods, explaining her work and relating it to topics students are currently studying in Stephens’ classes. She answered student questions about her work and other writing-related areas like note-taking, plagiarism, facts versus opinion, proper citation of sources, and how news stories are generated. .
Leftwich was in sixth grade when she first decided she wanted to write for a newspaper, and she followed that path working for her high school and college newspapers and eventually ended up at NTH, a she declared.
Below is a sample of questions and answers from the Leftwich tour:
Q. Where do the ideas for your stories come from?
A. Typically we cover what are called beats, which means one of our reporters may cover the county commission, another may cover the city council or school board or other regular meetings. Many stories stem from this. And people can post on social media that they’re unhappy with gas prices or a problem they can’t fix, and that might give us some ideas. People email us and send us messages, or they call us about events or other stories that we end up covering. And sometimes we are personally interested in something that leads to a story.
Q. How long does it take to make a journal?
A. There are many elements in the development of an issue of the NTH, because it is more than writing. We have ads, layout, graphics, editing, research and planning that go into every issue. Then we have to send it to a printer and get it out to our subscribers and sellers. But in terms of reporting, I pretty much write something all the time. Some of my stories are breaking news – news that we cover immediately as it happens or that we couldn’t have known in advance, like crimes or accidents. Others are features or other stories that we know in advance, and sometimes those take longer to write. We have what is called a story budget which helps us plan which stories we will write and when they will be used.
Q. Do you like your job?
A. That is a very big question, and I ask myself it every night. Most of the time I love it, but sometimes I have to write stories about people making bad choices or hurting other people, and that’s hard. Sometimes what I write makes people very angry. But other times, I write about people doing important things and making things better for others around them, or winning prizes, or having interesting hobbies. I love being able to write about these things. I’ve always been very curious about how things work, and my job allows me to explore lots of different things so it’s really never the same from day to day. I like to joke that I’m part mongoose, like Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, who says her family motto is “Go and find out.”
Leftwich also spoke to students about the specifics of short story writing, including answering “who, what, where, when, why and how” questions and using the inverted pyramid for the opening paragraph (or lede) – similar to a topic sentence for students. She spoke about practices rarely used in journalism, such as capitalization and the use of exclamation marks, and the difference between direct and indirect quotes.
“Ms. Stephens students were lovely,” Leftwich said. “They asked great thoughtful questions and I really enjoyed visiting them.”