Child’s play at Elephant’s Fork

Published 11:12 pm Friday, February 8, 2013

In my earlier days as a reporter, a mentor told me that the most important skill is to listen.

There’s listening and then there’s listening, she said. Almost always, what’s not said is just as important as what is said, and you can train yourself to hear those unspoken words just as clearly.

Six years on, that crucial piece of advice hasn’t lost its significance for me, and I was surprised and glad to hear it again from a 7-year-old at Elephant’s Fork Elementary on Thursday.

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It was during the school’s Career Day, where I spoke to the students about being a reporter and working on a community newspaper.

While they had many questions for me, one question I asked them was, “What skills do you think you need to be a reporter?”

“Writing.” “Taking pictures.” One even said, “Editing.” These were all good answers. Then a little girl said, “Listening.”

That was just one of my highlights from a couple of hours of talking to the children. Another highlight was simply the chance to get them thinking about a profession and a medium that’s important to the way we choose to live.

When I was planning what to talk about, I had the idea of asking them what they thought would happen if I and the teacher both left the classroom and left them to their own devices.

In the end, I was too sidetracked explaining about headlines, cutlines, mastheads, jump pages, bylines, printing presses and other such things to remember to ask. But I’ll bet they would have said that they would probably start talking, chasing each other and eating crayons — things they’re not supposed to do.

The same thing occurs with adults. I worked from home for a while, and, without colleagues and bosses sitting in my office, the discipline to do what I was meant to be doing wasn’t always easy to muster.

We all need to think of ourselves as watchdogs of those we elect to govern us, ever vigilant and always listening — especially during the silences. It’s not enough to leave them to their own devices.

Though I didn’t get around to asking the question, I hope some of those Elephant’s Fork students on Thursday thought about what newspapers do and why, not just how they do it.