The new beat is the same old street

1 Apr
Riel Fisher (10), Sadira Crowler (10 and a half) and A.J. Morales (11) get to work reporting the event.

Riel Fisher (10), Sadira Crowder (10 and a half) and Quinshaun Williams (11) get to work reporting the event.

Meet Riel Fisher, Sadira Crowder and A.J. Morales. They’re street reporters and today, pen and notepad in hand, they’re serious about covering the Unemployment Olympics in Tompkins Square Park in the East Village.

Today, Fisher, Crowler and Morales are learning the importance of on-the-ground local reporting.
“How did you feel when you lost your job? What will you do with the money if you win a game? How are you going to find another job?” ask the fifth graders, noting down answers by hand.

Whether it appears in a blog or in the grey print of a paper, reporting skills remain the same. But are they citizen journalists or professionals in training? Well, only time will tell.

Fisher, Crowler and Morales are fifth grade students at P.S. 34 in the East Village, and they’re covering this local event for a “Journalism” class unit. They’re creating a newspaper for the unit, and for these kids, beat reporting is the next cool thing.

Teacher Daniel Hildreth and journalist-in-training Sadira Crowler scan the crowd for potential interviewees.

Teacher Daniel Hildreth and journalist-in-training Sadira Crowler scan the crowd for potential interviewees.

The Unemployment Olympics, organized by out-of-work computer programmer Nick Goddard, took place on a sunny spring afternoon in Tompkins Square Park. The area is a symbolic gathering place for “sticking it to the man”: in 1988 it hosted a clash between police and residents of the East Village who were protesting the park’s curfew and an attempt by police to control and clean out the area. Angelica Conway, a student teacher from New York University, saw the event as a perfect opportunity for the school children to practice their reporting and writing skills.

Fervently making notes on their pads, the children mixed well with television crews, radio journalists and photographers who seemed eager for sound bites and video clips to satisfy their restless new media audiences.

The fifth graders aren’t bothered by the format their stories will appear in – newspaper, online, it doesn’t matter. What matters are the values a journalist should have when reporting.

A good reporter, says 5th grader A.J. Morales, “is someone who just goes around and doesn’t jump to conclusions, gives the good facts, and gets where they want to go [asking difficult questions] without hurting people’s feelings.

Journalists covering the Unemployment Olympics almost outnumbered the long line of unemployed people who took a “play day” pause from their job search to run a relay race to the “unemployment office” (a cardboard booth); attempt, blindfolded, to “pin-the-tail on the boss” (blame in the form of a drawing pin); and flex their arms with a Skee-Ball (telephone) throw.

Is unemployment the new beat? Journalists crowd around a participant trying to "pin the blame on the boss."

Is unemployment the new beat? Journalists crowd around a participant trying to "pin the blame on the boss."

Conway says the event was a great opportunity for the kids to “cover a current neighbourhood event and watch journalists in action.”

Read the AP’s take on the event

It was also a great way to illustrate how a national issue can be shrunk down to a local event, says teacher Daniel Hildeth, especially when kids see “something big that they are seeing in the news being represented locally .”

The class partners with IndyKids, a free newspaper produced five times a year that seeks to educate children on local and international news, and social justice issues.

The students said they had been taught to be sensitive in the way they asked their questions; the event was, after all, not just fun and games.

“It’s a lot of hard work to find a job and it might hurt to get turned down,” says Sadira Crowler.

The phone tossing event, which was originally intended to be done with a fax machine before being deemed too dangerous, was nonetheless enjoyed by all.

The phone tossing event, which was originally intended to be done with a fax machine before being deemed too dangerous, was nonetheless enjoyed by all.

But the children gathered round to cheer the participants on from the sidelines of the telephone throw, showing that neutrality might be one old-fashioned journalism skill these beat reporters still need to pick up.

Audio: Listen to Raheem Washington and Riel Fisher talk about covering the Unemployment Olympics, and what’s fun about being a beat reporter.

Video: Pin the tail on the boss … in abstract. Deep apologies for the video being sideways, I normally wouldn’t post it but it was too amusing to exclude. Don’t judge me for it!

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One Response to “The new beat is the same old street”

  1. jax April 1, 2009 at 6:12 pm #

    This sweet note from Daniel Hildreth, the 5th grade co-teacher via e-mail (he also pointed out some corrections I needed to make – thanks!:

    hi Jackie!
    thanks for the flattering blog post about our students. you cannot imagine the importance of such coverage to my students and our project. to see that WE are being recognized by legit media is huge to them and us. i am even blushing a bit. my principal will be totally enthused and proud.

    Again, thank you thank you thank you and please let it be known that you have touched several students, and ultimately a whole class/school in a very genuine way. take care and i hope we hear from you soon!

    also i have good video of the phone skee ball even if you would like to link it thru vimeo.

    -Daniel Hildreth

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