WASHINGTON: A dicey assignment — talking to kids about newspapers

SHARE WASHINGTON: A dicey assignment — talking to kids about newspapers
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“How many of you have read a newspaper before?” I asked.

Half the 70 or so students gathered in the Reavis Elementary School gym raised their hands.

Half!

I was stunned.

On Thursday I visited Reavis for a school assembly, invited by Jane Heron, a Logan Square resident and volunteer teacher’s aide.

OPINION

Reavis, at 834 East 50th Street, hosts a student body that is 98 percent African American; 96 percent come from low-income families.

Heron asked me to talk about the importance of education, my journalism career, and yes, newspapers. The Chicago Sun-Times has kindly delivered stacks of last Monday’s edition to the school.

I love visiting with students, but talking to 6th, 7th and 8th graders about newspapers is a dicey assignment. For young people, newspapers are headed for extinction. Millennials don’t read them, much less grade schoolers.

Yet, there they were, sprawled on the school’s gym floor, newspapers gathered ‘round. It was the end of the school day, but the most were smiling, rambunctious, but engaged.

“Where do you get your newspapers from? I asked.

“My grandma brings it to the house when she comes over,” replied one boy.

“The mailman drops it outside our apartment,” for her mother, a girl said.

“I used to read newspapers with grandad before he passed,” another boy replied.

Is there hope? We discussed the newspaper’s Monday morning wrap-around front page, heralding a huge, rare Chicago Bears’ win. Those wrap-arounds help sell newspapers, I explained. Everyone loves sports, right?

We talked about the op-ed section, where my column runs. We examined the Maudelyne Ihejirika’s marvelously nostalgic feature on the “Christmas Around the World” exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry.

Where else do you get your news? More hands went up. TV. Internet news sites.

Wherever you get it, consuming news is crucial, I told them. You must read news to understand and live in the world.

Then came an inevitable question in the age of Donald J. Trump.

“Don’t some reporters lie?” asked Edgar, a big boy with even bigger opinions.

What is fake news? Heron prompted.

“I feel like fake news is when they tell stories and they don’t give all the details,” said another boy.

I tried to explain. Yes, reporters have lied, but that’s rare. Yes, reporters do make mistakes, but we try very hard not to. Heron tried to help me out. “Sometimes it’s also when the reporter isn’t clear about the information,’ she said.

“Or sometimes they don’t want to talk about the other stuff that is going on,” Edgar retorted. “The news is a bunch of BS.”

Others chimed in. The media doesn’t tell enough stories about the nuclear threat from North Korea. Or the fact that human slavery still exists. Or about a neighbor shot by a Chicago police officer.

They had a point. So, I told them, be skeptical. Seek out trusted news sources. Check it all out on the Internet. Google is the ally of the curious.

There’s a lot of learning at Reavis. I learned that its halls and classrooms were brightly decorated, orderly and drama-free. The school specializes in science and math, I learned, but has also been recognized for excelling in the arts.

Principal Gail King’s leadership helped turn Reavis around, from probation status to a Level 1 plus designation.

Newspapers may not be around forever, but the students of Reavis are thriving. That’s news we all can use.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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