Where’s the story? Jeanne Acton, ILPC Director


Where’s the story? Jeanne Acton, ILPC Director
Where’s the story?
Jeanne Acton, ILPC Director
It’s that day again. That horrible day.
Story assignment day.
About once a month, newspaper
students across the nation dive into this
daunting task. Some skip class that day.
Some act sick, put their head down on the
desk and say they can’t participate. But
most simply whine …
“There’s nothing to write about in
this school. Nothing ever happens.”
I beg to differ.
There is this huge world
around you.
Just open your eyes.
Where do you look to find news?
• Oddly enough, your local media
• The national news
• Your community
• Web sites
• Your hallways
Let’s look at some national news
and topics that can be localized.
 Wars/military
 Obesity in America (teen diabetes)
 Crime rates
 New statistics on teen smoking
 New statistics on teen STDs
 Any new statistics that have to do with teens
 Teen pregnancy
 Drop out rates
 Poverty, homelessness
 Sex (not a how-to)
 Drugs
 Gay marriages
 No Child Left Behind
 Lagging economy/unemployment
 Charter schools/school reforms
 Gangs, violence
 Teens and HIV
 Immigration laws/proposed bills
 Reality TV craze - Am. Idol
 Steroids
 Myspace.com/blogging
 Internet dating
 Internet creeps
 Cutting
 Abuse
 Global warming
 Local elections
 Darfur
 Steroids
 Staph infections
 Cyberbullying
 Bath Salts – the new drug
How do I know if it’s
a good story idea for
my school?
Number 1 reason you know
it’s a good story idea…
• You found a local angle and have
interesting people to interview (the key
word here is ‘interesting’)
A few other reasons you know
it’s a good story idea…
• The topic will appeal to your
• The story will be more than just
• You haven’t told it before.
• You’re not doing it just to shock
people and cause controversy
Teen smoking …
Twenty two percent of teens
said they were smokers in 2007,
down from 36.4 percent in 2004
and 27.5 percent in 2000, the
Center for Disease Control
Is this a good story
or bad story?
Could be either …
It’s a good story if …
• We can find an angle. If we have a story to tell.
– For example, maybe we have a student at our school.
Let’s call her Jessie. Jessie’s father is dying of lung
cancer. He started smoking at age of the 13. He quit last
month, but it’s too late. The doctors are giving him less
than a month to live. Jessie, who has friends who
smoke, has not picked up the habit and never intends to
smoke. Ever.
It’s a good story if …
• We can tell the readers something they
don’t already know.
– For example, maybe several of our seniors
volunteer at the Cancer Society and are going to
sponsor a Smoke-Out for our school in a few
months. Maybe we have a few teachers are
going to give it a shot - quit smoking.
It’s a bad story if …
• We rely on statistics for our entire story
• We don’t localize the story to our school,
our community
• We simply do an editorial on “why smoking
is bad”
• We don’t tell a real story. We just ask five
people, “What do you think about smoking
and smokers?”
When localizing a
story goes bad …
The topic: The
War/Military Families
Here’s a bad one…
Many high school students and teachers have
friends and loved ones who are either in Iraq or
have been there.
“My uncle went to Iraq in November,” senior
Charlie Brown said. “He’s back now. He said it
was really violent.”
Assistant Principal Hank Williams’ son is in
“It’s tough having your son in constant
danger,” he said.
Brown said he never wants to join the
military. “It just seems too dangerous,” he said.
I saw very few of these …
Science teacher Sandi Mink gives her home phone
number to all of her students. She wants to be
available to students as they work on her physics
assignments at home.
But don’t bother calling at 8 p.m. on Thursday
nights. That’s a sacred time for the Mink family.
“That’s Jeff’s time,” she said. “Ever since he
went to Iraq, my son Jeff calls home once a week at 8
p.m. on Thursdays.”
“He’s called almost every week since he’s been
gone,” she said.
One Thursday in October, Jeff missed his
weekly call.
“I was sure he was dead,” Ms. Mink said. “I
started crying and couldn’t stop. Finally at midnight,
he called.”
Jeff had been on a raid and couldn’t get away
to make his weekly call.
“Luckily, Jeff is a computer guy,” she said.
“He works on the communications end of things and
doesn’t see much action. But that night, he had to
go on the raid to identify equipment.”
The topic: Drugs
Or how about this one?
Deep in the underground of Seaweed High School, you
can hear whispers of scandalous weekend plans. No, not your
over-hyped double date — drugs!
Even the most innocent student knows that drugs and
alcohol are a problem at our school.
Finding the local angle …
It was the worst day of his life.
Jeremy West had to explain to his 4-year-old sister that he
was the one who stole her piggy bank.
“I’ve done a lot that I am ashamed of, but that was the
worst,” he said. “She had been saving for a pink huffy bike.”
West took his sister’s $23 and bought crack cocaine.
“When I told her, she just cried and said she wanted me to
get better,” he said.
And that is exactly what West is trying to do.
West’s confession was part of his recovery from alcohol
and drug addiction.
“I’ve been clean for six weeks now,” he said. “There is a
long road ahead of me, but it’s a road worth walking.”
Again, good topic. Bad story.
Every teenager is faced with the question,
“Should I text while I am driving?” Many say
But some say “no.”
“I don’t do it,” said Carol Boring. “I don’t
know how to drive yet.”
Her best friend, Cathy Bland, agreed that
texting while driving could be bad. “I heard
someone’s dad was hit by a student who was
texting while driving,” she said.
Here’s good reporting…
“OK. C U @ 7.”
The text was innocent enough. No profanity. No illicit
pictures. No inappropriate messages.
But that innocent text changed Stephen Smith’s life
As his finger hit the send button on his phone, Stephen
looked up and realized he had swerved into oncoming
traffic. An 18-wheeler was headed right for Stephen’s small
Honda civic.
Stephen jerked the steering wheel and missed the huge
diesel, but his reaction sent the car spinning into a tree on
the side of Route 220.
“When the paramedics finally got me out of the car, I
only had a weak pulse,” he said. “They didn’t think I
would survive.”
He did. Just barely.
“I had a punctured lung, bleeding on the brain, 16 broken
bones and a 8-inch cut across my face,” he said. “Even
though it’s been six months since the crash, I’ve never
forgotten that day. And if I do, my face quickly reminds
When localizing a
story goes bad …
Here are the facts:
 More than 5 million American experience eating
disorders (Harvard Eating Disorders Center)
 Fifteen percent of young women have substantially
disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. (HEDC)
 In the U.S. conservative estimates indicate that,
after puberty, 5-10 million girls and women and one
million boys and men are struggling with eating
disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating
disorder, or borderline conditions. (National Eating
Disorder Association)
 Bulimia and anorexia affect 3-5 percent of middle
and high school girls. (NEDA)
Here is the story gone bad …
According to the Harvard Eating Disorders Center
more than 5 million Americans experience eating
disorders Fifteen percent of young women have
substantially disordered eating attitudes and behaviors.
According to the National Eating Disorder
Association, in the U.S. conservative estimates indicate
that, after puberty, 5-10 million girls and women and one
million boys and men are struggling with eating disorders,
including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder or
borderline conditions. Bulimia and anorexia affect 3-5
percent of middle and high school girls, it reported.
Here is the story gone bad (again)…
According to the National Eating Disorder
Association, 5-10 million girls and women and one
million boys and men are struggling with eating
disorders, including anorexia, bulimia, binge eating
disorder, or borderline conditions.
“I have a friend who is real skinny,” junior
Sally Clueless said. “I bet she has anorexia.”
Teens with bulimia eat a lot and then vomit.
“Yeah. I think puking after eating is really
gross,” senior Lucy Littlebrain said. “Puking gives
you really bad breath.”
And it continues …
But not everyone has an eating disorder.
“I love to eat,” said junior Chuck Up. “When
we go to Cici’s I eat like 20 slices of pizza. I’m
getting hungry just talking about it.”
What can we do to
fix the story?
Kimiko Soldati remembers exactly when her
bulimia started.
She was transferring from Colorado State to
Indiana University, and one day she felt she had eaten
too much.
"The idea popped into my head that I could get
rid of this," she says.
And so she threw up.
That set her on a desperate course. At one point,
she says, she was "purging pretty much everything I
ate. I was so obsessed about calories that I didn't want
to chew gum because there are 5 calories in a stick."
How about those things
that occur every year at
your school?
 Prom
 Policy changes
 Homecoming
 TAKS results
 Graduation
How can you cover
those things in a NEW
The typical prom story …
On April 15, 200 BHS students attended prom. The
theme this year was “Star Studded Night.”
“Prom was cool this year,” senior Jack Lamo said. “I
liked the pictures of celebrities on the tables.”
Some seniors said they didn’t like the food at prom
this year.
“Last year the food was better,” Candy Flavor said.
“This year it stunk.”
Rhonda Popular and Mitch Handsome won prom king
and queen. “I can’t believe I won,” Popular said. “It was
such a shock.”
Gillian Ruiz never thought she would go to prom. She’s a
self-described “plain-looking nerd.”
So when senior football captain Tom Hunhel asked her, she
was more than a little shocked.
“We were lab partners in science,” she said. “I thought he was
cute, but I didn’t think he even knew I existed outside of the
science class. He hangs with the popular crowd, and I hang with
the computer geeks.”
But Tom said he has had a crush on Gillian since science
teacher Greg Hill paired them together.
“She’s so down-to-earth and so dang pretty,” Tom said.
“Most high school girls spend hours putting on gobs of make-up
and tons of hairspray to impress the guys. But none of that stuff
impresses me.”
Gillian did accept Tom’s invitation, but now she’s a little
worried about the outcome.
“I don’t know how to dance – at all,” she said. “My mom is giving
me a crash course. I have two left feet.”
Gillian also said she has no idea what to wear. “My usual attire is a
T-shirt and jeans from Old Navy,” she said. “I don’t even know what
stores carry prom dresses.”
Tom isn’t worried though.
“I don’t care if she steps on my feet a hundred times or wears her
favorite T-shirt to prom,” he said. “I am just so glad she will be there
with me.”
The typical new policy story …
This school year students who are late to class are sent to
the tardy lock-out room for that entire class period.
Principal Dan Jones said he started the tardy lock-out
policy because too many students are tardy.
“We have a tardy problem,” he said. “Hopefully, this
new policy will encourage students to be in class on time.”
Sandy Dandy said she went to the tardy lock-out room
“It really is boring,” Dandy said. “I don’t plan on being
tardy again.”
What if we found someone who was really affected
by the change …
Rafael Martinez lives for baseball.
He plays it every month of the year. His room consists of
baseball bats, catcher equipments, old and new gloves, trophies
and literally hundreds of balls. He was the leading hitter for the
varsity team last year.
But because of the new tardy policy, Martinez may be sitting
this season out.
“If I get one more tardy in first period, I will lose credit for
the class,” he said. “If that happens, I am not eligible.”
Martinez said he doesn’t have anyone to blame but himself. “I
am not a fan of the new policy, but I know Principal (Dan) Jones
was trying to solve our tardy problem,” he said.
So far this year, Martinez has been in the tardy lock-out room
six times, four for first period. After five unexcused absences, a
student loses credit for that class.
“I sleep through my alarm a lot,” he said. “My parents both go
to work really early so I am home alone.”
Since the tardy policy began in January, Principal Jones said the
amount of tardies has dropped dramatically.
“Last semester we averaged 200 tardies a day,” Jones said. “We
are down to about 25 a day now.”
Jones said while he knows the policy is working, he does not
want to see Martinez lose his eligibility.
“I cut a deal with him,” Jones said. “I will call him every
morning as a back up to his alarm clock if he promises to hit a
home run every game.”
Here’s your assignment.
Before the next story assignment day in your
newspaper class…
 Read the local paper
 Listen to NPR’s “All Things Considered”
 Watch 20 minutes of a national news broadcast
 Watch 20 minutes of “The Daily Show”
 Visit the internet
 Find one student who is affected by an ‘old’ story in a new
 Buy yourself and your teacher a donut
 AND …
Produce 10 story ideas
and come up with local
angles for each. Then, eat
your donut.