I teach processes more than anything. Today, I sent students an assignment that involves them taking the first step toward developing and writing a sports feature. Along with observation and interviews, research is essential — perhaps even more so in the germination process.
Students are asked to do the following:
1. Write a single sentence that outlines the focus for the proposed feature. (The more they research, and later report, the more this focus will narrow.)
2. Cite the conflict or unusual angle that drives your story. (Conflict drives all stories; one might also argue that a thing being out of the norm, or unusual, inherently involves conflict.)
3. Research the topic or individual in order to find potential angles for this story. This information will likely be used in the story and to provide ideas for sources and questions for interviews. Share this information with me in either news story format or in essay format. Either way, be specific, include details and interesting quotes. (This will help students develop more angles, questions, sources and context. After doing this, students will likely revamp their initial one-sentence pitch.)
4. Cite the news articles and websites used to develop this information at the end in a works cited page. (I want to see where they find their information, and, further, if the information is credible. Later I class, I will suggest that chatting informally with those involved with the topic is also a form a research, which most students usually have never considered.)
After the assignment is submitted, we discuss them all in class.
In the past, I had too many students merely interviewing a single source and subsequently knocking out a justifiably horrible feature. Same thing happens when students do not research a guest speaker or fail to read past stories and minutes for a student government or city council meeting. It’s our fault as teachers, if we don’t address the right way to prepare to write, or develop, news stories.