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Jared Felkins' Column: From the mouths of babes comes lots of encouragement
Dec 15, 2012 4:20 pm
“Children are the world’s most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.”
— John F. Kennedy
In keeping true to my belief that every word matters, this week my focus has been on the word encouragement.
It’s four syllables, 18 points in Scrabble minus any double- or triple-word scores, and its definition I felt this week for the first time in a long time regarding the work we do on a daily basis.
When it comes to working in newspapers, phrases like, “It’s a thankless job” or “We do this to make a difference,” come to mind.
But when I get six times more calls asking why we replaced a few comic strips than letters to the editor in a given week, it makes me wonder whether it’s all worth it.
Don’t get me wrong. I appreciate anyone who cares enough about this newspaper – regardless of the section or page – to pick up the phone and call. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is your newspaper. Everyone needs a little entertainment in their lives.
But in a typical 70-80-hour work week, about 30 seconds is spent on comics. It’s simply not the focus of what we do, although we are proud to provide a page each day filled with comics.
During one conversation, an older man asked why we changed our comics.
“We’re trying something different,” I responded.
“Well I just can’t get into this Big Nate or some of the other ones,” he said.
“But my son is in fifth-grade. He has all the Big Nate books. He loves Big Nate. Maybe not all the comics are for everyone,” I told him.
“Yes, but his age group shouldn’t be who you are targeting,” the man said. “Maybe you should think about who’s buying your paper.”
Wow. What an intriguing statement. That comment may not ever leave my memory banks.
Ironically, this week Candace Dodson invited me to speak to the fifth-grade class at Castle Heights Elementary School this week. Dodson is my fifth-grader’s homeroom and language arts teacher. Her instructions to me were simple.
“My objective is for the children to get to actually meet a journalist,” she said in an email. “Could you describe your responsibilities as a journalist?”
Now I love to talk, especially about what we do at the newspaper. Every day at work is fascinating to me, and I find it hard to believe when anyone doesn’t share that same enthusiasm. In fact, I’m available for most any speaking engagement; just give me a call.
Though my intentions were honorable regarding Dodson’s request, my talk with the children allowed me to test a hypothesis that centered around my earlier conversation with the older gentleman on comics and the paper in general.
So my first questions to the children were, “How do we use newspapers? Why do we have newspapers?”
Out of about 100 students gathered in the cafeteria, nearly every hand in the room shot into the air.
“We get the news that’s going on around us,” said one child. “We find out what’s going on in sports,” said another. “Weather reports.” “Stock reports.” “They are used to record what happened that day.” “Obituaries.” “Comics.” “Pictures.” “Stuff going on around us in the calendar.” And the list goes on.
How’s that for encouragement?
Now let me say right now that we value each and every reader. But I’m especially encouraged by the 100 fifth-graders at Castle Heights Elementary School who are so in tune with what we’re doing.
If this is any indication as to the future of our industry, I am encouraged to know we will be doing this important work for many years to come.
Jared Felkins is The Lebanon Democrat’s director of content. He may be reached at 615-444-3952, ext. 13 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @paperboyfelkins.